You can’t go home again — or can you?

RFCInnerMongolianCaravansWhen I tried out my blog title, “Recovering Foreign Correspondent,” on an old friend and former China correspondent from a dozen years back, she shook her head glumly. “You never recover,” she said.

That may be. And really, who would want to? Being a foreign correspondent is one of the greatest jobs on the planet. You travel. You meet interesting people. You expand your own horizons and challenge your own assumptions on a daily basis. You learn that the world and its issues look very different, depending on where you sit. You offer perspectives, stories and analysis that just might help bring a corner of the world to life for people who might not otherwise know or care. You enjoy the company of restless and deeply curious souls, who make every conversation a pleasure, and every shared reporting trip an adventure.

And yet — I never intended, when I moved abroad at age 23, to stay away forever. What a wise person once said about anthropologists could just as easily apply to foreign correspondents: “An anthropologist is thrice-born, first in the country of birth, then in the country s/he chooses to study, and finally when s/he returns home and looks at it with fresh eyes.”

So after 27 years of living in China, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and London, and reporting from some 40 countries, I’ve decided to test novelist Thomas Wolfe’s adage ‘you can’t go home again.’ I’ll be sharing my impressions here of how the transition goes – what’s hard, what’s easy, what I miss about my life as a foreign-based foreign correspondent (most recently, over the past decade in Beijing, for the PRI/BBC radio program “The World”) and what I appreciate about the new one.

Please come along for the ride.  I’d enjoy the company.


For starters, you can listen in to an exit interview I did in Beijing with the excellent Sinica Podcast’s host Kaiser Kuo:

And here’s a reentry interview I did with The World, when in Boston this week:

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18 thoughts on “You can’t go home again — or can you?

  1. Hi Mary Kay,

    Just as I am wondering whether you will keep writing new stories, look what I have found! Looking forward to hearing your new adventure!


  2. Wow. It’s great that you are back in the States after 27 years abroad. I remember our conversations, when we were 21 and 22 year olds at Northwestern. It was great seeing you at homecoming this past week, and catching up, if only for a few moments. Those of us who didn’t go abroad are forever grateful for the wonderful insights we have gained through your work while you have been away. Welcome back.

  3. This maybe exactly what I need as I feel that I am going through a touch of the same.

  4. Hi Mary Kay,
    I stumbled back onto Facebook after a long absence and it was great to see your smiling face again! Then, onto the blog – as a fully recovered foreign correspondent please believe me when I say there is life after journalism!!. Please send me an email (that old technology) so we can reconnect!! (Hi Jeremy by the way) Best, Louise

  5. As a fellow “Recovering Foriegn Correspondent” – albeit one who is still restlessly wandering around the World – I look forward to comparing notes. It’s a tough habit to kick……

  6. As a former expat in China for 3 years, I can say coming back is tough tough tough. Clean air, clean food, but oh god the boredom and sense of a country that is dying day by day.

  7. I’ve been enjoying my first couple of months in the post-Beijing diaspora. I bet you will too, especially once all the heavy metals wash out of your system.

  8. Welcome back Mary Kay! Enjoying the blog already and looking forward to more.

  9. As a journalist who moved away from the US at 18 to live in China, and then moved abroad at 21 with the intent to stay away forever (lived in China, Singapore, France so far and now based in Italy), I’m quite interested to see how you get on back in the US, seeing the perspective from ‘the other side of the fence’ as it were. Good luck!

  10. Wow. Never thought I’d see the day when you returned to the USA. Looking forward to reading your blog. Are you still with ‘The World’ or trying out new and exciting adventures?

  11. Great idea for a blog. One shouldn’t underestimate reverse culture shock. An alternative to going home, when one’s masters say it’s time, is of course to jump to a different organization and stay out. Sooner or later, though, many of us find reason to return — even if, as in my case, for only part of each year. I’ll be most interested in learning how your reentry works out.

  12. Good luck … I’ll be watching closely, I’ll be making the same transition sometime I guess …

  13. Welcome home Mary Kay. I’m looking forward to reading your observations. An perspective flavored with knowledge of the rest of the world is sorely needed in the United States.

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