Reverse Culture Shock: Home After 4 Months in Mexico

We have been home in Toronto for seven days.

The past two days have included freezing rain, snowy conditions, and severe winds.

The weather, of course, is a shock to our systems after spending four months in Mexico.

But the weather is only the tip of the iceberg.

The reverse culture shock and adjustment to moving home is proving to be more internally challenging than anticipated.

A challenge that is not visible on the outside. It’s the inside stuff that has shifted, and the outside stuff that hasn’t changed here. It’s a bit of a mind f@#k.

Here is a glimpse through my lens as our transition unfolds.

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At 9:30am on Sunday, April 8th, we left our cozy apartment in La Punta, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico. Our generous friend, Luccia, drove us, and our luggage (2 large, 1 medium, 1 carry-on), to the bus station.

We boarded the bus at 10am and said farewell to Puerto Escondido, and our special little piece of the ocean. The girls asked “Are we there yet?” every five minutes.  Though impatient, they were in good spirits. We took in views of the mountains and rural countryside, and had plenty of snacks for the journey.

We arrived in Huatulco at 12:30pm.  As we dragged our luggage in the blazing sun with a whining four-year-old in tow, the ten-minute walk from the bus stop to the airport terminal felt like purgatory.  The littlest member of our family was feeling all the feelings. Though she couldn’t articulate the “why” of those feelings, the apprehension of our family’s massive move, loomed.

It was a long walk, physically and metaphorically, for all of us.

Thankfully, we had plenty of time to check-in and get to our gate. We changed into our pants and layers before boarding. Arjan and I laughed at seeing each other in winter clothing.  We had traded our bare feet for running shoes, and our bathing suits and sarongs for long-sleeves and scarves.

The flight was relatively smooth, with the girls getting to chew gum during take-off and landing, thrilled to watch, not one, but two movies. Sugar and screens; it’s no wonder that they get excited about air travel. Parenting at it’s finest.

We landed in Toronto at 8:30pm, with the bubbly flight attendant announcing “Welcome back to reality! Hope you enjoyed your vacation!” How do you explain to people that we weren’t coming back from a vacation? That this was a life-changing experience, not an all-inclusive resort package.

We started to debark and I felt the chill as the winter air hit my skin.

Arriving to the airport and going through customs was the beginning of the culture shock. There were so many people. It was busy and overwhelming.

My parents picked us up with our car and we squeezed in a hug, while other cars honked at us, impatient to pick up their own loved ones. Everyone’s needs respectively urgent. A sense of entitlement and stress in the air.

We were not in Mexico anymore.

As we got onto the highway, everything was oddly quiet and serene. All of the cars were driving in rows, white and red lights, mesmerizing. The billboards were perfectly designed, symmetrical, and captivating. All of the roads were smooth and the buildings we passed, in mint condition. Every sign was in English and I could make sense of every message.

No half-finished construction sites, shacks, or hand-made Spanish signs.

We pulled onto our street and it felt like a ghost-town, everyone tucked away, cozy in their houses.

At 10pm, after a long day of travel, we unlocked the door and stepped into our home. It was just as we had left it.

Empty shelves. Empty drawers. Empty closets.

I had forgotten how much time we had spent purging, minimizing, and packing our personal effects.  In that moment, eight months of consistent effort all came flooding back to me.

SO. MUCH. WORK.

Seeing our modest 2-storey, 3-bedroom, semi-detached home with fresh eyes, made it feel like a mansion. Our open-concept main floor stretched out with glowing gorgeous white kitchen countertops. How I missed my kitchen.

That night, we slept the longest that we had in four months. No barking dogs throughout the night, or chipper birds waking us up in the early morning hours. Our temperpedic mattress felt like a cloud and the blackout blinds kept the kids in bed an extra hour. Bliss.

One thing stands out above the rest: We are privileged. So, so privileged.

Privileged to be in choice. To be able to choose where we live and how we live.

As we transition back into our luxurious lifestyle, I am aware of every small bit of privilege that I previously took for granted: clean drinking water, paved roads, reliable internet, bathrooms with toilet seats, fully-stocked grocery stores, wide sidewalks, bike lanes, traffic lights, road signs, and clearly marked addresses. Our Vitamix, dishwasher, washing machine, climate-controlled home, inspiring kitchen, and car are like icing on the cake. The list could go on.

We have re-connected with family and a few close friends this week. I am overwhelmed by all of the love and attention. Visiting over warming comfort foods have been good for both the body and the soul.

I was happy to live simply in Mexico. It has made me more grateful and aware of the abundance of our life here in Toronto.

This week our focus has been on tuning-in to our needs, day by day.

The girls went back to school and daycare on Tuesday. We have been doing most pick-ups and drop-offs together as a couple and making it a priority to connect as a family when we get home. No screens to ensure that the girls can emotionally regulate and process the transition without the added hurdle of screen withdrawal. So far, so good.

Unpacking is slow and steady. It took me four days to find my favourite (and only!) pair of blue jeans. I had tucked them away on the top shelf of the girls’ closet, thinking that that would be the first place I would look when we got home. Nope. It sure wasn’t.

Arjan had our bikes chained and locked together in the garage for safe-keeping. It took three days to find the keys for those locks. He was like a kid in a candy shop, getting on his bike again. I love seeing the joy that cycling brings him. (And yes – we are bringing bikes to Mexico next time!)

Emotionally, I am feeling tender: I only leave the house if I am in the right headspace to engage with others. When asked, it’s hard to sum-up our experience. I feel a certain disconnect because our travel experience is unique, and seems un-tangible for many (it's not!). Enduring the winter months is an emotional marathon. Who wants to hear about the ups and downs of living in paradise?!

I am being gentle with myself and giving myself space to transition, in solitude. There have been many quiet moments at home and even a couple of uncharacteristic naps this week.

For those beautiful souls who have followed our journey online, there is a deep sense of knowing and understanding when we connect in person. For those people, I am grateful. You make me feel held and safe. I know that I don’t have to explain much, which gives me a sense of ease. Thank you.

Everything here is familiar, yet I feel different internally. The comforts of the language and our modern lifestyle are easy to embrace. My recovering perfectionist is trying to re-emerge, but I am finding a certain stillness that keeps her at bay. I am happy to be listening to the weather and hibernating with the season. It feels good to be getting settled in our home space and nesting.

Having these four months as a family has truly been a gift. I want to continue to soak up all of the feelings and lessons in this transition. The process is slow, and I am okay with that.

Though we are going back to Mexico in August, Toronto is where I want to be, right now, in this moment.

I love our life in Canada and I intend on relishing in every moment.

Even the snow-y ones.

Big Love,

Allison xo

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Now it's your turn:

How do you feel when you come home from travelling?

How do you tune-in to your needs?

Do you have any tips to share?

As always, we love hearing from you – please leave us a comment below! xo