Nothing’s changed – but please don’t hate us when we say it

Captain getting old
No, he hasn’t gotten any greyer while I’ve been gone… right?

It has to be one of the most insufferable phrases to come out of an expat or traveller’s mouth upon their return home. I’ve heard it countless times myself and I’ve seen the expressions on the faces of people receiving it. Hell, I’ve even thought it, though hopefully I was able to hold myself back from actually spitting it out.

Because upon greeting old friends, visiting them in the same houses, situations and workplaces as before they left on their epic 3/6/12 month adventure, expat’s invariable come out with. “Oh wow, nothing’s changed!”

Cue the grimace. Because let’s be honest, if you look at it from the person-who-stayed-at-home’s point of you, you’re insulting them, plain and simple. Because things have changed: walls have been knocked down, babies have grown into toddlers and friendships have been forged. Just because a person has remained in the domesticity of work and life in the country they grew up in, doesn’t mean they haven’t grown or moved forward while you’ve been away.

But I just want to try and clear this up a little, and explain that it’s not always intended to sound as arrogant as it might.

Those who have taken on solo travel or tackled the challenge of living and working in a different country alone will know how much it changes you – not outwardly but inwardly – your horizons expand, your courage grows – the time you spend outside your comfort zone opens your eyes to new opportunities and experiences you never would have thought to take on before.

Invariably, upon returning home, be it 3 months or 3 years, you just feel different. You don’t understand why no one can see it. But upon returning to the comfort of familiar streets and friends you’ve known since primary school, you get a sense of sudden grounding, a relaxed, at-ease feeling that you haven’t experienced during your travels. You understand that your friend has found a new job, published a novel or had a baby, but because they’re still in the context of your homeground, what you want to believe is, they haven’t changed at all. That nothing’s changed, that your going away didn’t cause any rifts in the social fabric of your past life, that you didn’t miss anything.

You so desperately want people to not have changed to reaffirm this exact thought – that you didn’t miss anything. And because they are living perfectly normal lives and living those lives in a space that you are familiar with, nothing has changed, right? Right? Things are the same as they always have been and you will fit right back into your old groups.

A few weeks go by and you might start realising a few things: your old dancing buddy now prefers to spend Saturday nights watching movies with her new beau, and your cocktail-drinking partner will happily join you, but can no longer drink alcoholic drinks because she’s pregnant. And that’s when we realise. Oh God, things have changed. And I missed it, because I was selfishly gallivanting around the world.

Sadly, the old adage is true, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t expect to be a traveller and not miss some of the milestones: the births, the deaths, the marriages.

So during your travelling friend’s transition back into the real life, where they have to readjust themselves into the new person they feel they’ve become and the new surroundings that have appeared in their old world, understand that they could be a little bit lost and try to listen to their travel stories with an interested ear.

And if someone says that dreadful phrase to you in the future, nothing’s changed, don’t instantly assume they’re trying to insult you. Don’t assume their proclaiming their superiority over you. Because it could just mean that they’re feeling comforted by you, and that they’re seeking affirmation that they didn’t just travel the world and move their own personal mountains only to find out they no longer belong at home.

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