For the fourth time in twenty-four years, I have moved abroad. The first time I moved abroad, I was only six years old and I did not have much of a say on the matter. To be frank, I did not even understand what was happening. I do not remember my mother frantically packing up our belongings, trying to fit the lives of all her family members into a few suitcases. As a child, this was of no importance to me.
What I do remember – and will forever recall – is the separation.
As an adult, I am now aware that the psychological aspect of moving abroad is the smallest one – definitely not the least important one, but just the one that you cannot afford to acknowledge while you are applying for visas, putting together boxes and suitcases, securing accommodation, buying one-way tickets, finding employment, and taking care of finances.
When you are a child, none of that matters. You do not understand it and you cannot understand – or even see – how it may be affecting others. The only thing that you feel and remember is the emotional aspect.
I remember missing my father every single day as he lived and worked in another country until his probation period was over and we could join him. I remember watching videos of him over and over again; I remember going to sleep hugging a bottle of perfume he had left at home; I remember not understanding where he was and why I could only see him through a computer screen.
The second thing I remember is crying at the airport. I recall feeling as though my heart was being torn in two when I had to say goodbye to my grandmother. I remember sitting between my mother and brother on the plane, holding their hands and crying because of how much I already missed her.
The last thing I vaguely remember is reuniting with my dad. I remember him waving at us and me running to him. I have no idea what the airport looked like or whether it was day or night. I have no recollection of the flight or the drive to our new home. None of it mattered.
As a young adult, I was overcome by fear.
Time passed and I got somewhat used to feeling this separation. At age 18, I had to say goodbye to the home and friends I’d known for 12 years as I packed up my suitcases and boarded a flight to England. At the time, parting with my friends and family was difficult but not the most challenging aspect of relocating; it was the fear and anxiety that took precedence. They cast a shadow over everything that was meant to be exciting.
Going to university in a new country felt nothing like it was portrayed to in films. I was not eager to leave behind everything that I’d ever known and start anew. I was not ready to jump headfirst into the unknown. Having never actually visited the town I was going to be living in for the next three years, I was terrified.
I cried like a child as I said goodbye to my parents at the airport; this time, it was not the separation that broke my heart in two but the belief that I would not be able to make it on my own. Of course, I did make it on my own – and to be quite honest, I still do not know how I did.
I learned a lot about myself during these three years. I experienced culture shock almost every day over the first few months and I often felt homesick as no one seemed to understand the way I thought or the way I did things. At the same time, however, I understood how some of my own beliefs could be false or flawed.
Then, once again, just as I had learned how to be myself in a new place, life decided to teach me another lesson.
At 21, I learned what repatriation feels like.
After university and only a few months after the outbreak of the Coronavirus, I left the UK and returned to my home country. Because of the pandemic, I was not able to say goodbye to the life I had and the friends I had made; I simply left without closing any doors behind me.
Arriving in Bulgaria at the age of 21, I had to pick up where I had left off 15 years ago at the age of 6. To no one’s surprise, this was a challenge.
Surrounded by my compatriots, I felt lonelier than I had felt my entire life. Speaking and writing in my native language, I seemed illiterate. Ignorant about my own history, I was indifferent to the national holidays and customs while those around me rejoiced.
I felt shut out and rejected, not realising that I was the one shutting out and rejecting it all. With time, I understood that I had turned my back on my home country for 15 years, thinking it was the only way that I could move forward and find myself. I had absorbed so much of other countries, cultures, and religions, that I had forgotten my own. It was only when I understood this, that I allowed myself to see things in a different light. In fact, I remember the exact moment I realised that this transition had happened.
I was walking back home one evening when I met a man my age. He was explaining how he was visiting his grandparents for Christmas and that he lived abroad. He stressed that he had lived in several different countries and “could not possibly imagine coming back to live in Bulgaria now”. I found this saddening, recognising my old self in his words. After explaining my own situation to him, I was met with disapproval and disbelief. “I cannot understand why you would ever come back,” he said as he shook his head.
Although I had come back simply because I had no other choice, I now understand that I had to come back to learn how to love my roots. A few months after realising this, I purchased a one-way ticket to England.
Three days ago, I landed at Heathrow Airport and I am now walking amidst fog. I do not know what will come next but I know it is another lesson.