You Can Go Home Again... right?
October 11, 2012 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Moving back after 10 years: what to watch out for?

I am from Northern California. About 10 years ago I moved to the East Coast for grad school and stayed to work. (Those details may not be all that important.)

I get along fine here, have a good number of friends, I suppose am professionally successful (research/analysis field)... but this whole time I haven't come to the conclusion that this is where I want to settle down long(er)-term. I don't own my home or a car--but am in a position where I probably could afford them--and am not in a relationship. Other West Coast-born friends have made the reverse migration happily.

So I'm thinking about going back. I still have a smattering of good old friends in CA that I talk to sometimes, and see once or twice a year when I visit, who occasionally ask if I'm thinking of returning. My family would be happy to have me nearby and I would like to see them more too.

BUT: ten years is a long time. I don't know if "reverse culture shock" is really applicable, but I do wonder what else I should consider or look out for. Have you done anything like this? Was it hard to reintegrate? (Special locational bonus: I know the California economy has been slow to recover from the recession, but what else specific to the Bay Area might be a rude awakening for someone who's only visited briefly over the past few years?)

I did check out this question and while that was useful, I'm so much not looking for "help me justify this idea" advice.
posted by psoas to Human Relations (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
& for a possibly complicating add-on, I have considered the idea of just going back "for a year," though the prospect of finding employment again and again does not excite me.
posted by psoas at 12:23 PM on October 11, 2012

Could you clarify whereabouts on the East Coast you are - especially whether you're in a major city? And would you be moving back to a major city in CA?
posted by UniversityNomad at 12:29 PM on October 11, 2012

To name a few financial things that you might already know: gas prices are quite high here, state sales tax is very high, and anything you order through now has CA state sales tax applied, as well. There seems to be a concerted effort in CA to make up for some rather significant financial deficits by looking at taxation options. So, there's that.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:29 PM on October 11, 2012

DC (we have high local taxes too!) to most likely SF area.
posted by psoas at 12:30 PM on October 11, 2012

Watch out for getting super fucking lazy when you realize how easy it is to live at home with your family and friends (and maybe a car?) and are not struggling not to die every moment of grad school and being alone.

I moved back home after undergrad and it basically felt like a slow, wonderful twilight sleep before a lethal injection. Um, but then I snapped out of it and I'm happy I moved home. Though it was difficult to find a job, so yes. Prepare to not let yourself get too frustrated by that.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:31 PM on October 11, 2012

I did something similar, moving back to my Midwest hometown after over a decade living on the east coast and in Texas. I initially moved back for a time-limited job "just for a year" and ended up staying for two more years doing a fellowship. I was able to reconnect with a few old friends, and was lucky to meet some wonderful folks through work right away that I and my husband really clicked with. I was worried about living close to family again, but that ended up being really great in a lot of ways. If you had told my 18 year-old-self that my 30-something-year-old self would like it so much I would never have believed it. Unfortunately, there were no jobs to keep me there after those 3 years. We still scheme how we'll get back one day.

So in short, you know what to expect, so it kind of minimizes the culture shock, but the time makes it easier to appreciate the good things you might have grown used to in the past. You have a base to start from, you can always change your mind later. I really recommend the experience.
posted by goggie at 12:34 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

but what else specific to the Bay Area might be a rude awakening for someone who's only visited briefly over the past few years?)

House prices.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:57 PM on October 11, 2012

Actual house prices are probably down from 10 years ago but rental prices have gone way up.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:01 PM on October 11, 2012

Q: What to watch out for?
A: Watch out for yourself.

Seriously. You have probably changed in your time away. Your values, expectations, patience, willingness to engage in certain activities, willingness to engage with certain people, etc, etc etc...... All that may have changed over the last decade and people who you may have dismissed as "just being that way", might really aggravate you now. And the reverse might be true as well. It's a two way street.

I have been in a certain situation as of late and there are a few lines that I draw that I won't cross and other lines with regards to the types of people that I will tolerate. Some family members get a pass, but certain subjects are never brought up (like politics). Certain friends have views counter to mine that we can debate about. Others have views that I see no reason even engaging them on, so they get quietly shuffled off to the occasional hello.

The odd thing is that 10 years ago, I got along with all these people just fine. I changed, but they did not. I am far more liberal than I was and they seemingly have either stayed the same or become far more conservative and religious. Or maybe I am just more aware of it now. Some I can deal with and others I cannot.

So the take away is to understand that everyone has changed and being thrust back into people’s lives after a decade long absence will require a bit of patience. For me, it also required making decisions as to what views I would tolerate and under what circumstances.

Had I been the one who stayed home 10 years ago, I fully expect that another person returning after 10 years would be making the same evaluations of me.
posted by lampshade at 1:06 PM on October 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

Do it. After DC California is amazing.
posted by crabintheocean at 1:06 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

In terms of culture shock, it's all America. Even in the deepest, darkest corners of the South or the Mid-West, "red" and "blue" Americans are much more alike than we want to admit.

Between DC and the Bay Area? People here on the whole dress more casually, are in better shape and seem to get more exercise, and I'd say overall are a bit less intellectually, politically and scientifically rigorous on policy matters, plus are just sort of more ignorant about those kind of issues at all compared to the average professional in the DC area. Other than that, it's pretty much the exact same. The weather is nicer, there's more and better producer available, and the cost of living is higher.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 1:11 PM on October 11, 2012

I totally did this but in reverse. Grew up and went to college in the East Coast, moved to the PacNW before the ink was dry on my diploma, stayed there for almost ten years (even went back and forth between the coasts for a few years) and am now really happily settled in to the East Coast again. I feel like I belong here and there's something nice about being near my family that I never would have expected. The few caveats I have are these

- Be mindful if there's an urban/rural thing. I lived in Seattle and then came back to a small town partly because I knew I wanted to be in a small town. Make sure you're moving to a place that is right sized for what you want
- You may be around a lot of people who never left who may have different ideas about the world outside your home town than you do. This is good and bad news, but it's worth understanding
- If you have siblings they may have closer or different relationships with your parents now than you do, people may be used to you not being around and it may take a while to get back in with them the way you were, there may be schisms
- Your time away will start to seem smaller and less significant. When I had been in Seattle for almost ten years that was a third of my life. Now that I've been on the East Coast another 10+ years it's shrinking to a smaller and smaller percentage every year. I stay in touch with friends there, but it's harder to connect (I don't visit much, I travel a lot for work and don't get back there) and I feel that I left the city life behind in some ways, happily.
- Realize that there is a stereotype of the person who leaves and then comes back and gets really intolerant of the lifestyles of the people who stayed. Try not to be That Guy and watch out for incipient signs of being That Guy.

It took me several years before I felt like I'd made the right decision and even longer to feel like I was part of the fabric of the place again, and that I hadn't felt that way exactly about Seattle. But at some level I always feel a little out of step and that came with me, I'm just more mature and able to recognize it now.
posted by jessamyn at 1:19 PM on October 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

there is a stereotype of the person who leaves and then comes back and gets really intolerant of the lifestyles of the people who stayed

I think that stereotype is more about East Coast people who move Out West and then, after a few years in paradise, move back. I was becoming that guy, when I moved back to DC after seven years in LA -- so I moved back to California as soon as I could. That was thirteen years ago, not much has changed since you've been away, in fact it's better here in Silicon Valley, because ten years ago we were entering the depths of the dot-bomb crash, but now, things have been looking up for a while.
posted by Rash at 2:00 PM on October 11, 2012

I moved to urban West Coast after growing up in semi-rural and rural parts of the East Coast (and spending about a decade in an urban area).

Despite being here on in the SF Bay Area for years, and feeling perfectly at ease, I also think there are some qualities of East Coast life that are at the same time more putting-in-roots friendly and making it harder to take root.

On the East Coast it's common for people to live very near where they grew up, even in urban areas like Boston. So you'll be surrounded by people with a strong sense of local identity, which I think strongly contributes to a sense of place, both for them and for newcomers. There's a social infrastructure that ties neighborhoods, families, schools, and work, and its living memory goes back decades, even generations.

If you're used to this, and expect this, when you move back to the West Coast, it may be a shock. On the East Coast, I am not surprised to visit an area I've been away from forever, and many of my friends and neighbors are still around.

In California, well, areas like San Francisco at least, there's more churn; you may feel like an outsider rather than a wayward local coming home.

On the plus side, relative to the East Coast, I feel like 'outsiders' are more welcome here and it's easier to become part of the local social networks, and feel like an equal.

tl;dr: if you return to California with the expectation that you're a newbie, rather than an established local with expectations that things will be like when you left, I think you will have an fine time.
posted by zippy at 2:06 PM on October 11, 2012

I lived in San Francisco for about 15 years, and I was back a couple of weeks ago for a conference. It depressed me.

Buildings that used to be new, fancy apartments are now part of the VA. The streets seem dirty to me (and I was at the St. Francis at Union Square.)

I left in 1990 after the Loma Prieta Earthquake, so after that, SF seemed a bit ominous. I still have some PTSD when big trucks lumber by me.

You can't step in the same stream twice. You may love it again, I personally don't see myself living there again. Maybe Napa or Sonoma, but I don't see me in the City.

Also, as you get older, it's harder to meet and make new friends. Your old friends have moved on and have new interests and new friends and may welcome you back, but it will be different.

You won't be picking up where you left off. You can't.

Also, no matter how much you pay in DC for housing, you will still be shocked when you try to find an apartment to rent, let alone pay to rent it in SF.

How about a totally NEW city? That could be fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:41 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I grew up in and around SF and left to live in Chicago for close to 10 years in my mid-20's. I moved back to be closer to my family, but if they hadn't been a factor, I wouldn't have moved back.

Old Friends: Friends I saw when I came home to visit are now seen at approximately the same frequency. People have busy lives and kids and by the time we make solid plans, many months have passed. When I came home for vacations, there was more urgency to visit because of limited time. Now, we're just all caught up in our lives and time flies and I don't see them as much as I had imagined I would.

The Bay Area: San Francisco, specifically, seems like a different city than the one I grew up in. It seems smaller (maybe because Chicago is so big and diverse in comparison) and there's been a culture shift to a much wealthier demographic. Cost of living has fundamentally changed the area. And, for many reasons, I don't feel it's for the better.

Family: This is the major highlight for me. I live close to my parents and we see one another a lot. They're terrific, wonderful human beings who I love spending time with, so this is all win. This is the reason I moved back, and now I feel like I'm not squandering the time left I have with them by being so far away. YMMV.

Cost of Living: I don't notice it in every sphere, but property and rent are insane and there's no indication that it's going to get more reasonable. Of course, there are people who make piles of money, for whom it isn't an issue. I'm not one of them. I will never be able to buy anything here. In Chicago, it was a possibility, but here, not so much.

California: It's beautiful here, there are lots of wonderful places to go. There's no harsh winter where I live and the summers are not humid and roasting. The climate is very comfortable. It's cliche, but I do miss the seasons. I don't miss the extremes of hot and cold.

New Friends: In my experience, and my husband's (he moved here with me, but isn't from here), good friends are harder to make when you're an adult outside of school or a very large workplace. It's taken us several years to cultivate close friends. And, even then, it's only a handful. Again, YMMV. We left a large community of friends, and rebuilding one has been longer going.

Culture shock: It was strange to have everything be quite familiar, yet quite different. It took over a year to feel comfortable. And probably another year or two to feel like it's home. We were both incredibly homesick for the home, friends, city that we had left behind. And, it manifested in strange ways, like not having the easy autopilot of where to go to get the things you want (green grocer, sandwich shop, bookstore, picnic spot, etc). I didn't expect having to relearn all of that stuff, especially since I was returning to a place where I had grown up and visited in the interim. It didn't feel comfortable for a long time. I felt a strange sense of uneasiness that's hard to put into words.

Actual moving: It's the worst. But, it was also an opportunity to do a huge purge of belongings. It would have cost us more to move the things we owned than they were worth, so we got rid of a lot. It changed how I see stuff and I appreciated the opportunity to be forced to part with it. Also, I wish we had saved more money before moving. Finding new jobs, a new place, and new everything was costly and stressful. We had a nice nest egg when we arrived, but burned through it faster than we had planned. More of a reserve would have made some of that easier.
posted by quince at 3:53 PM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

"Home" is a sometimes dangerous, uncomfortable, impulse- and change- generating word that itches away at the mind once you start contemplating it. That which was once home may not be home now. Be wary of the concept. And wary of anyone who tells you where your "home" is; only you can work that out.

I've spent the last four years - to the day - moving between the UK and the USA. I'm still figuring out some of this, and the contorted chains of events that kept shifting what I ... felt ... was the elusive thing called "home". Death in its many forms - parents, close friends, relationships, pets, various hopes - played a large part in re-evaluating and changing my personal definition of "home", as did opportunities taken, experiences gained (good and bad) and places explored (29 US states) and lived in (Michigan, Ohio and Iowa). And in your case, it sounds like you have a clear opportunity at California at this point in your life.

And it's the experience of actually doing it that will sort it out in your head for you. If you don't do the move to California, or at least try the move for a while, then you will have "What if...?" moments in the future, when whatever circumstances life throws at you (e.g. a mortgage, or a partner who doesn't want to move, or a job that ties you down) makes it more difficult to move. Moments that you can't answer, or satisfy to yourself. Because you didn't do the part after the "if", when you could have.

So do it.

And if it doesn't work out, or events change your definition of "home", then you've experienced, learnt a few more things, gotten a little older but a little wiser, and can try somewhere else. The USA is a wide, gorgeous, heartbreakingly beautiful, intimate, friendly, hopelessly and emotionally addictive but wonderfully diverse and unique country - no, experience, not just a country - and the world beyond it is even more expansive. Move. Move again, if you need to. Until you find the place, or the personal situation, that feels like "home" to you.

Good luck, and good adventure.
posted by Wordshore at 5:55 PM on October 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

Thanks for all the thoughtful feedback!
posted by psoas at 9:02 AM on October 22, 2012

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