I underestimated how strange it would be returning to England and my family. Of course, everyone warns you that it’ll be slightly strange: I had the same experience on my first return from university. Yet this is different. For one thing, it was strange enough to hear people speaking English, with real English accents, everywhere. I’ve become habituated to react in Italian, to say “grazie, arriverderci” with cashiers, or “scusi” to get past someone. My Italian is by no means perfected, but what I do know I use frequently, with my native language being forgotten. It was a shock, therefore, to realise that I could still speak English, and in my second day here, I am still getting used to the fact that I don’t need to translate anything for conversation. In some instances, my brain has even given a response in Italian before I realise I need the English version, and I am translating it back.
Yet possibly the most unnerving feeling is noticing how I have changed. When my dad picked me up from the airport, he noted how little time it felt to him, because everything is still almost the same for him and the family. I could not disagree more for myself. Whilst true that the last three months have gone quickly, it also feels like I have lived a whole other life in that period, one that has changed me in ways I didn’t even know I realised – but the strangest part is that my friends and family here have shared none of that change with me. In my two hour plane journey, I pictured myself telling them all that has happened – my travels, my new friends, the family I work for, the everyday life – yet as I sat with my dad in the car, I realised I didn’t know where to start, and I wasn’t even sure he’d want to hear it. There would be nothing he could relate to. Arriving at my house became even stranger; like a dejavu to a past life. Pulling onto the driveway, it took me a moment to recognise my home of twenty two years. Everything seems so far from my memory. I reached for the wrong place on the wall for the light switch, because the ones in Italy are lower. I wasn’t sure where to leave my coat and shoes, because in Italy I have cupboard space for them. My dad was right that almost nothing has changed: the problem is that I have, and it is taking a while for me to readjust to what life was like before.
This afternoon I am meeting my friends at the pub, and I know this will be another shock to the system: to walk the street I have taken countless times, to be in the town centre and see the chain stores and cafes, and to be surrounded by a typical English pub atmosphere, a pub that I have spent the entirety of my teenage and young adult years at…and to not immediately recognise everything.
I had assumed I would feel at home as soon as I met my dad, but it was not until I woke up in my bedroom this morning that I recognised I was there. My mind is still full of everything Italian, like some secret life that no one here knows about. A horrible part of makes this feel special, but another hates it for making me different, for taking me from the life I had here.
I hope, and I think, by the end of Christmas I will have adjusted to my English life again, and have remembered what it is that makes this home. But a warning to all travellers and workers abroad – your homecoming will not be immediate.