I am 29 and had been living outside my home country for almost a decade. It all began with a Rotary scholarship to Switzerland at age 18 where I became bitten not by the travel bug but by the "living abroad" bug. I reveled in the adventure of seeing if I could make friends and get around in a foreign language. Everything was so different and all my senses were heightened, I was living every experience in the moment. From there, returning to my hometown of Perth, Western Australia, seemed like a death sentence. I yearned for excitement and a faster pace of life to fulfill my dreams of becoming a TV and radio host.
After my father's passing in 2004, I fled to Singapore and promptly began working in the entertainment industry. After four years of hard partying amongst a tiny community of Western expatriates I was poached by a radio group in Dubai and off I went again for another five years as an expat in an even more exciting city.
So you see a good third of my life was spent fulfilling all my dreams and having the best lifestyle I could imagine while doing it. Being an expat also enabled me to get financially ahead as well as gain a fast track to my career. Unlike media industry hopefuls in Australia, I never had to do long internships or stints at country radio stations. In fact, Dubai was a tax free zone and Singapore low tax so I came to think of myself as very lucky. Many of my fellow expats have gone through the same professional experiences and the mere mention of "repatriation" brings on all kinds of emotions from fear to disgust or the words "never ever."
In every work sector in Dubai, life moves at lightning speed. My kind of speed. I too wondered: Could I move back? Had I truly become this expatriate entity that could only function in air-conditioned spaces with perfect hair and make up? Would eating at home ever please me again? Would paying tax ever be ok with me again?
In June last year my mother suffered a terrible stroke. It seemed like a full circle moment, having fled Perth when my father died, unable to cope with being surrounded with reminders of him in my hometown. This time, 10 years older and strengthened by the independence I learned overseas, I decided it was time to come home. I set about researching the process of repatriation the same way I researched a country I was relocating to. I asked a friend of mine who had lived for 12 years between Singapore and Dubai and repatriated to Sydney how he found the process. He described his experience as "mild depression" over the course of two years.
Understandably, I was petrified and I still am scared. I decided that if I made the move I would attack it the same way I had tackled my last three relocations. I've been back for 1 month and find it hugely amusing to learn to drive again, to have to ask people when I am jogging which side of the path I give way to for cyclists and having to keep receipts of everything in order to claim things later on in my tax return. I am definitely still enjoying the novelty of this move because everything seems familiar yet at the same time foreign.
I am still relishing the goodness of a Red Rooster Tropicana pack over fine foie gras at the Burj Khalifa. I've swapped my evenings attending Dubai's most luxurious events in gowns designed especially for me by couturiers to be in bed early and then getting up early to run to see my mother at her nursing home, do her make-up and help change her nappy. Before you think this is turning into some kind of "Chicken Soup for the Soul" situation let me back the trailer up and say that I can handle all of this because I am still flying to work in Dubai and Singapore every 4 weeks. With great relief I am employable in my home country and I do weekends on a radio station now in Perth to maintain my skill set and maybe, if my mother walks again soon, I will return in 2015 to my expatriate life.
But what no one talks about publicly amongst the raving, sometimes obscenely decadent expat party scene in cities like Dubai and Singapore is the disconnection. This disconnection that I longed for in running away back in June 2005 is the same reason that bought me back nine years later. Like a boomerang coming full circle, I have returned and slot myself back into the bliss of suburbia. The things that I loathed as a teenager are now things that I love. The ability to walk everywhere without being hit by a car, the focus on health and being in the outdoors and the slow pace of life which allows for time to be with my family and maybe particularly special in my case ... the sheer anonymity. "Home" is not a dirty word.