“Gee it’s good to be back home
Leave it till tomorrow to unpack my case
Honey disconnect the phone
I’m back in the U.S.S.R.”
More like back in the U.S.S.A, am I right?! But still… the point remains.
After spending the last 3 years living abroad – and two years before that living on Maui, which basically feels like you’re living abroad – we are now officially back in the mainland United States, taking up temporary residence in the upstairs unit of an old Victorian home in a tiny town called Buellton, California, hilariously known for being the home of split pea soup, as well as for its assortment of wineries and unforgivably uncool local ostrich farm.
While we absolutely dig being back in the land of convenience and excess, where international cuisine and booze delivery and electric scooters and gasp, even legal weed, are the ways of the world, moving back has been challenging in entirely new and unexpected ways, that, to be honest, has at times made us wonder why the hell we ever left the carefree – albeit dengue-ridden – tropical beaches in Thailand in favor of the daily grind in central California. And yet here we are, at least for the foreseeable future.
The Challenges of Repatriating After 3 Years Abroad
As much as Peter’s idea of heaven is shacking up in a bamboo hut on the beach and surfing all the live long day, I’m thankful we only did that for a portion of our previous 5 years, as the reverse culture shock of being thrust back into the States may have felt like a bit like being dropped off in Times Square on acid with only a treasure map written in Mandarin to get us home. Long story short, I’m glad we still have social skills, and family and friends who have been kind enough to help us out.
That being said, some of the most challenging aspects of getting reacquainted with life in the U.S. have been…
Paying (Surprise) Taxes
Undoubtedly the shittiest welcome back present I’ve ever received, I was recently informed by the IRS that I failed to pay something called the General Excise Tax (GET) – Hawaii’s own version of a state tax – since my employment began on Maui in 2013, and thus now owe 4% of every dollar I have ever earned as a freelance copywriter back to the state of Hawaii, plus any penalty fees they decide to tack on for hideous measure. Ouch.
Even though I lived on Maui for two full years, my only explanation for never having even heard of this tax, let alone the fact that it applies to me and my bank account and goes above and beyond my federal and state income tax, is that 1) I mentally blocked it out, the same way I block out football scores and music by Post Malone, or 2) it never came up. In an effort to save face, I’m sticking with the latter. Either way, it’s a self-inflicted bummer deal.
Renting an Apartment
While searching for apartments in Santa Barbara County, we were told by more than one rental agent that we would most likely be denied as tenants due to our lack of verifiable rental history, especially since our last lease in the United States ended in 2015. While our rental history for the previous year looks like this:
- January – March 2018: Hyundai Van, New Zealand
- April – October 2018: Surf charter boat, Sumatra + Assortment of hotel rooms & short-term room rentals, Thailand & Vietnam
- November – December 2018: Various beds belongings to friends & family, Texas & California
…it still sucks to be refused housing because of our choice to live abroad in non-traditional living situations.
The lesson I took from this process? LIE. If any of you receive a phone call from a listing agent or landlord, your talking points for us as tenants are ‘tidy, quiet, trustworthy, and lacking of any and all pets and children. And furniture and most standard belongings.’ Thanks.
Similarly, income verification for purposes of getting approved for much of anything – housing (yet again), loans, credit cards, insurance, etc. – is a somewhat crap-filled nightmare, as I’m paid in non-regular intervals in a variety of currencies by a rotating cluster of national and international individuals and companies, and Peter’s income is somehow even more sporadic than mine.
Once again, if any of you receive a phone call from someone seeking further verification that we are, in fact, fully-functioning adults in our thirties currently living and working in the United States, your talking points for us as humans are ‘fantastic employees, high-earning potential, reliable workers, and closely related to Michael Dell.’ Ahem.
Competing for Jobs
Maybe I’ve been away for too long, or maybe the number of job offerings versus pool of talented applicants in California has always been this outrageous, but has the population somehow quadrupled?! Do a plethora of highly qualified, unhappily unemployed people just sit at home waiting for a remotely acceptable job to pop up on LinkedIn so they can apply within the first 12 seconds and in hopes of beating out the other 494 assholes applying for the same position in the following 12 seconds?!
For the first time in years, I feel professionally ‘behind’ on a rather profound and alarming level. Even though I have a never-ending supply of writing samples, websites, marketing campaigns and digital projects to show for myself, including work I feel proud to showcase as an example of where my skills lie, I have had zero luck finding a company willing to hire me for a full or even part-time position that is remotely related to what I’m seeking.
While I know this isn’t true for all opportunities, it feels like our choice to live abroad has negatively affected our job opportunities back home. When choosing between two qualified candidates, I believe the fact that I have worked a little for a lot of different people – all while moving repeatedly every 5 months to 2 years – doesn’t look as solid, professionally, as an applicant who has spent the last several years working full time for an assortment of traditional agencies all within the United States. Although I understand this logic from an employer’s perspective, it sucks to feel outranked, outworked and overlooked in a place you thought held more opportunities for success than where you just came from.
But hey, it’s still early, and no place is easy in the beginning. Plus, we’re still working on setting up our own onsite Travel Writing + Photography Workshops, as well as a few possible guided trips abroad, later this year. Stay tuned, and please, for the love of the Hawaii Department of Taxation, let us know if you have an opportunity that might be up our alley.
If I have to think about owning – or not owning – one more type of insurance, I might just lose my ever-loving uninsured mind. If taxes and insurance are the two prerequisites for adulting, y’all excuse me while I disappear into the jungle. Or somewhere with less bugs.
Keep in mind that we haven’t had traditional health insurance, car insurance, renters insurance or any other form of Insurance Adults Apparently Need since we left the country more than 3 years ago, not to mention a single utility bill that didn’t consist of a $20 monthly charge for using a foreign burner phone.
The closest we’ve come to any normal version of adulting is getting travel insurance during our first month in Indonesia as a way to combat our rising medical costs after puking on sweaty street corners with a bad case of Bali Belly. Classy.
Understanding Recent References
To this day, I have still never watched an episode of Game of Thrones, stepped foot inside a coworking office, had my groceries delivered, become an Amazon Prime member or knowingly memorized a lyric to a song by Ariana Grande or Cardi B. Hell, I just started using Spotify last year, recently took my first ever Lime and Bird ride (albeit attached to the back of friends), and still have yet to live anywhere in the U.S. that has Uber or Lyft. As a Christmas present in 2017, my mom even gifted us a Google Home device before hilariously realizing we were about to move into a van.
To sum up, hell yes, y’all did all the damn thing(s)! But also WHAT IS HAPPENING and HELP.
After years spent living in places where the internet – and often power – goes out the instant a distant raindrop imagines its initial descent, it became all too easy to convince ourselves that moving back to the U.S. would automatically entail lighting-fast internet, far-reaching cell signal and a certain level of basic normal-ness.
Instead, we moved (temporarily) to a farm where our cell phones didn’t work, the internet stopped at the mere thought of rain, and strangers offered us cheap rent in exchange for our willingness to star in weekly editions of amateur porn.
Lastly, I want to give a huge shoutout and thank you to Peter’s parents for housing (and feeding) us in Austin, my dearest Madre for giving us her nice car to use while we live in the States, our homies Adam & Olive for housing us for free in California and taking us on random adventures, Jenna & Tori for showing us the hangs in Long Beach and providing endless laughs, and Adam & Anna for not making fun of me as I snowboarded as slow as humanly possible on my first ever trip to Lake Tahoe, and letting me crash your nice hotel rooms. Y’all rock, and we certainly couldn’t have done it without you.
Let us know when you’re ready to blow this joint and move to Mexico.