Before I got back to Miami for the holidays, I was thinking about reverse culture shock. I was expecting to feel weird handling dollars again, hearing English all around me, seeing how everything had changed in my absence. But then I got here and everything felt the same. I experienced no adjustment period, no culture shock. It felt like I had been gone for a long weekend.
That’s because I’m not an expat in the strictest sense of the word. I’m more of a seasonal expat. The difference between me and a regular expat that leaves home for a year or two is that I keep coming back. Though I live in Prague for most of the year, I only do so for a few months at a time. I never have a chance to miss home too much before I’m back here for holidays, birthdays, and weddings.
How work facilitates the transition
Oddly enough, the glue that holds it all together is work. I have three main jobs that I juggle, which sounds exhausting. But actually, they’re all remote jobs and they’re jobs that I can arrange on my own terms. I make my own schedule depending on my availability and take vacation whenever I want. The thing that enables me to spend so much time in my hometown to begin with is that I can work while I’m here.
And as the only constant in my life, work becomes a steadying influence in what is otherwise two completely different lives. In Prague, I walk and take public transportation everywhere. In Miami, I drive long distances, often in traffic. In Prague, I cook for myself almost every day with fresh ingredients. In Miami, I eat out constantly because buying food at the grocery store is almost as expensive, so why bother. In Prague, I speak other languages. I have to learn to communicate when communication is impossible. In Miami, I know every language around me.
These two lives that I live for only a couple of short months at a time don’t feel that different when I sit down and work. So when I get back to Miami after months of absence, I’m able to get back into my routine right away. It doesn’t feel like I’m adjusting to a completely different life, because that part of my life is still very much the same. The jet lag even gives me more energy to work early in the morning when I first arrive.
How technology facilitates the transition
Maybe the hardest thing for expats coming home is not those strange cultural differences, but seeing how family and friends have changed. I always read angsty travel writers talking about how much their loved ones changed in their absence. Well, duh. You can’t expect your world to be paused while you’re gone. Couples will break up, get together, have kids. Friends will change jobs, move to new apartments, move away themselves.
But you don’t have to be completely absent from those changes if you stay connected. For someone living thousands of miles away from loved ones, technology helps you feel a little closer. I don’t go more than a couple of weeks without FaceTiming people back home and catching up the way we would if we were in the same city. We send each other pictures, stories, and generally stay present in each other’s lives.
So when I meet up with friends for dinner after being away for 4 months, it feels like I saw them just two weeks ago. Because I did. I was a floating head in someone’s phone the last time they got together. Putting physical distance between you doesn’t have to make you distant.
The downsides of living two lives are their own reward
Moving every couple of months is not for everyone. Most people like the perceived stability of their surroundings, of their stuff. When I come to Miami for an extended period, I have to meticulously choose the things I can live without for the next couple of months. And vice versa. I have clothes, shoes, gadgets, and musical instruments that have never seen the Czech Republic.
It might sound disjointed or tiring, but not having access to all your possessions all at once makes you appreciate them more. Driving in Miami is the worst, but when I’m reunited with my car, I will gladly sit in traffic just to sing along to the radio. It doesn’t fatigue me like it did when I was driving day in and day out.
The short periods of absence also make you appreciate the cities where you live more. I constantly go exploring around Prague because it’s still relatively new to me, so I haven’t learned to take it for granted. When I’m in Miami, I make it a point to go to the beach because I’m only here a few months. By contrast, when I lived here full time, I saw the beach 3 times a year at most.
Living this way allows me to pick and choose the best of both my homes. As much as I love Prague, those Czech winters are fucking rough, so I skip them. I’m at the beach when the Czech Republic is feeling temperatures under 20 degrees. When Miami is getting battered by tropical storms and hurricanes, my ass is sitting pretty under the fall foliage in Prague.
And though I miss some things, I can plan to return for some of the more momentous occasions. So I might skip the baby shower but be here for the birth. And who wouldn’t love a lifestyle that gets you out of a baby shower? That’s the dream.