Re-entry and Hireath


The new year is upon us.  This mandates reflection – where have we been this past year? What have we achieved?  What resolutions will we make for the coming year? How have we changed? Who do we want to become?

With reflection come memories and longing for days gone by. I recently discovered the Welsh word,  hireath, and felt such a connection to it while thinking about this past year.

While hireath does not have an “exact” translation to English, here is how it has been defined:


Children on one of the float’s at one of South America’s largest holiday parades, Cuenca, Ecuador, Dec. 31, 2013

I have experienced hireath several times in my life, but most profoundly when returning from abroad.  There is an angst that comes with re-entry;  a feeling of wanting to return to a time and place that isn’t really “home” – yet still calls you. During this holiday season, I have spent many hours daydreaming of my time in Ecuador, where I lived exactly one year ago.  I’ve forgotten the several month battle with giardia and instead am recalling the beautiful Pase del Niño parade on Christmas Eve, the walks at Ingipirca, the days spent with Ecuadorian friends at the coast – sitting on the beach and decadently eating shellfish until we couldn’t move another inch except to lounge into the crisp water to refresh ourselves, preparing for another decadent round of sun, laughter and patacones.

Re-entry is a new beginning, but for many it also is a tremendous loss.  We lose that new identity that we gained abroad (or have to fight to retain it).  We grieve the change of pace, loss of language usage, daily sights and sounds.  Friendships abroad are often relegated to a social media space instead of a human one.  We return “home” to work toward our next goal (school, job, family, etc), yet we wax nostalgic about was is gone and we ache for the ability, like Superman, to spin the earth in the opposite direction and return to a time and place that is in our past.

Las Tunas, Ecuador. Hours spent with local friends - laughing, eating, talking, swimming,resting...and doing it all again.
Las Tunas, Ecuador. Hours spent with local friends – laughing, eating, talking, swimming,resting…and doing it all again.

And while we can “go back” (return to that place),  we can’t ever really replicate the experience. That is part of life – growing up, accepting the change, knowing that there isn’t an end – but rather a new beginning of yet another adventure.

Yet, we can’t help but experience hireath on the journey.

I’ve also experienced hireath at two other critical junctures in my life:

My SIT classmates, circa 1992, Brattleboro, VT
My SIT classmates, circa 1992, Brattleboro, VT, USA

1) Departing graduate school at SIT in Vermont for my internship.  This was pre internet and felt like a loss of a circle of people who would never share the same physical space again.  At that time, it felt like a chapter that I did not want to end, simply because it was so unique and required such a cultural shift that I didn’t know if I could handle it.

Holiday gathering with close friends from my work days at Cendant Mobility’s International Assignment Services Division (now called Cartus), circa 2000.

2) Departing a career in the international relocation industry.  One of the most magical times in my life was working in an international assignment division at Cartus (then called Cendant Mobility).  On a daily basis, I worked with people from around the world who respected and embraced cultural differences.  We formed deep friendships and felt like family (and still do)…but my departure and the eventual departure of many from our original team still feels like a death of a close friend.

And now i know that there is a word for what I have felt about life after those precious experiences. It is hireath.

When sojourns end – whether it be a semester abroad, a year backpacking, a transition in a career or school – emotions run deep. Processing these experiences is key to acknowledging and honoring hireath, and eventually moving past it when it becomes an unhealthy obsession (e.g. the only joy one can find is in the memories.)

What experiences have brought you hireath?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!