Ever since I left Germany 13 years ago, I had proudly proclaimed that I would ‘never’ return. And the more years passed, the more people took this as a true statement. Every time I would meet up with a friend from the past, I’d get the question ‘ And where are you going next?’
And now I’ve been in Germany for over 2 years. In one place. Without real plans to leave. And I have had a lot of time to think. About why I had wanted to leave Germany and never return so badly over the years.
Who are you? How are you defining yourself?
A career person? A parent? A boss? An entrepreneur? A spiritual person? Many people will have a definition of themselves. And often that is tied to their jobs (which can be problematic, as I’ve written in my post ‘What do you do’) or their relationship status.
So I have noticed how I’ve been holding onto my definition of ‘expat/world traveler/perpetual traveler’ of the past 10 years. Wanting to turn me into a person of this definition was what pushed me away from Germany, where I didn’t feel like fitting in. As a teenager I felt like the odd one out, the nerd, who had no interest in ‘hanging out, drinking, partying etc’. Needless to say, I wasn’t very popular, and I had few people who truly seemed to accept me for who I was. Branding myself with ‘living abroad’ finally gave me something, other people seemed to value me for. Suddenly I wasn’t the geek who only listened to classical music and wore pink cycling shorts to school. I became Constanze, the girl who did what others thought was such a brave and special way to live. People started looking up to me, telling me how they wished they could do what I did. And I finally felt as if I had found my place in the world. I now was ‘someone’ too. This new definition of mine expanded, and I collected ‘countries I had lived’ and ‘places I had traveled’ like an actor collecting and polishing their awards lined up in their living room. I went to great lengths to hone my role. This was a new, better, and refined me. This was someone who had a place in this world, that people accepted, even respected.
Having returned to Germany, I felt as if the label ‘expat’ had been stripped of me.
For the first time in a long time, I didn’t know what to tell people when they asked me what I’d been up to. I didn’t have any stories about life abroad, new cultural quirks to share, the knowledge I had acquired over the past week.
I felt like a white sheet of paper. A new page of a sequel that the author had never thought about writing.
What was I doing? What is a traveler and expat who is in her home country for an unforeseeable time?
I had been letting my experiences abroad define me completely. This had been me. All of it. At least at first sight. And having taken that definition away, I felt so empty. I did not want to let go of the definition. At the same time, I was happy to let go of the action of moving abroad. So BEING IN GERMANY has not been the problem. It all has to do with CLINGING ONTO MY OLD PERSONA that I had let completely engulf who I thought I was.
Therefore, me not wanting to return to Germany all those years was deeply fueled by my ego. The fear of having to let go of that role. I never prepared for another role, because I had never wanted to give up the original one.
I thought I was worried about what people would think of me, but I’ve come to realize that I was especially scared of what I would think of my own self.
These past years have been yet another journey. I’m traveling the country of ‘myself – the whole self’ – the parts that are off the beaten track, the parts that I wish didn’t exist and the parts that I forgot existed, but I am rediscovering.
And I’ve made peace with being here for now – knowing that the world will always welcome me again with open arms if I decide to leave.