International living makes you stand out. Your experiences, languages and ideals don’t necessarily match up with everyone else’s. Your concept of home is different, and your life is a logistical achievement when you get it right. This life is not for everyone, yet when you live it – you cannot imagine things being different. You feel right at home in multicultural settings, but where is ‘home’? This post is about the concept of ‘home’ and how to find options when looking at tomorrow. Perhaps you read the first part of this series about living far away as an expat? If you share the life of a global nomad you will know why ‘home’ is more a concept than a place. For my non-nomadic readers, I hope you enjoy this different view of ‘home’ and get an appreciation of the ‘other’ side of expat life.
International Living: A Life Well Lived
The majority of earth inhabitants are born, grow up and live all their lives with a strong connection to a geographical place. For many expats living abroad means that home is everywhere and nowhere. Does this mean that you are a forever foreigner? No, I don’t think so. The world is your oyster, and your concept of home just different.
Living abroad can be complicated, and full of difficulty choices. Perhaps you read the first article How International Living Is a Game of Plans? Indeed, the logistics, complications and relationship issues are many. We live life to the full, and have an extensive memory bank from draw. The multitude of people, experiences and cross-cultural communications teaches us to appreciate, be humble and flexible.
It is a life that gives as much as it takes. It is a life well lived, and continues to excite every day. But – many ask – don’t you feel rootless? What about ‘home’?
International Living: Where Is Home?
What is Home to you? Is it the sound of laughter, the smell of special foods, or seeing your front door? Most people have emotional responses to the word ‘home’. Home for most people is a place to which you feel connected. Generations that have lived in this land before you, and you know the neighbours as you played together as children. Home is a location in a country, and even a street and a house.
If you grow up in the same town, and go to the same school all through the years you develop a sense of belonging. You recognise the patterns that make up the invisible spider net of cultural do’s and don’ts. You know where you stand, and can make reference to what home is. You travel on holiday, and make comparisons: “This tastes just like at home!”, right?
When you move around the references to ‘home’ have little to do with a place. ‘Home’ is a concept, a feeling, and sense of knowing that you have wide-spread roots all over the world – and is more connected to a memory, a piece of memorabilia or a photo. It is an intangible knowledge that you belong everywhere, and feel more comfortable with groupings of multicultural diverse people. The world is your oyster.
This topic has been on The GOODista before and might be of interest to you: Living Abroad: How Home Is Everywhere and Nowhere?
The complications are often many. You struggle to relate to that place that you are supposed to call ‘home’. When relocating to the country of your passport, you feel like strange bird. Your feathers are too bright, and your voice too loud. You cannot understand the unwritten rules, while you speak like a native. Thus, people you encounter regard you are ‘weird’.
You long back to the concept of what you know as ‘home’. Your world is a multicultural, vibrant reality where tomorrow is not what today is. You can relate to the flexible, the spices of life, and the exchanges that are born from many corners of the world. The ‘place you are supposed to call ‘home’ rarely offers this, and you can feel very out-of-place.
International Living: When Home is a Box
The international nomad can have a very strong sense of where home is. This would probably be a so-called first generation expat. Your time away is temporary – yes it might be years – but yet you know where you will return to. Your frequent trips back home means bulking up on products that connect you with your homeland. You try hard to convince your children that ‘home’ is a place where they too belong. Well….
There is another kind of international living habitué. This person will have grown up outside of their country of nationality. These second, third and fourth generation expats are Third Culture Kids, and have a different view of what ‘home’ stand for.
For a long time expat, and especially so a TCK – ‘home’ is a box. A box full of things that makes up a feeling of home. You can pack and unpack this box, and will know exactly which books stands next to the other – and what ornament goes in ‘the living room’. You can replicate this ‘home’ wherever you land. This box is precious to you. Possessions take on an emotional value as they represent the kaleidoscope of your life’s journey.
As a third generation expat, I am deeply connected to many of my things. A cookie metal box I got in France, a Maasai wooden spoon and countless pillow cases inherited from my great-grandmother. These items are not valuable in money – yet their represent ‘home’ to me.
The feeling of ‘home’ sits in the multitude of experiences and people we are with – rather than a place. The sense that you must belong to one street seems off, as the world is your village. I don’t feel rootless at all. I am very lucky to feel at home in many places.
International Living: The Concept of Home
If ‘home’ is not a place, but a multitude of places – the global nomad will be used to ever-changing patterns of life. This is part of the DNA. Change is so common, that permanence is scary. The thought of ‘settling’ down is very far away from an international nomads way of thinking. The idea that you would buy a house, which then has to be rented out or left to its own devices, seems like an utterly crazy thing to do for an international lifer. Most global travellers don’t purchase property until much later in life.
Your frequent country hops become part of your identity, and you relate to the world around you differently. You have internal fights with yourself when to react (or not) when you perceive narrow-mindedness, prejudice or fear of the unknown. Your extensive cultural exposure has made you all too aware that you are in a different place mentally than most, which can also be hard when dealing with everyday relationships.
The ‘home’ that an expat belongs to may not be a location, but it can get really tricky when age or the unexpected comes around the corner.
International Living: When Tomorrow Comes Where Do We Go?
When all plans go asunder, and options run out the idea that you can simply ‘go home’ is as strange as the word ‘home’. The perception that your country of nationality also represents ‘home’ is in most cases not right.
Perhaps you cannot return there, as is so often the case if you are a refugee, or lost your rights to return to where you once belonged.
If you can go to the country of your nationality, “going home” often means going to the most foreign place of all: A place where you don’t understand the do’s and don’ts. A place that you assumed to understand everything by osmosis since you speak like a native. A place where you are a very rare bird, or a cat among pigeons?
It is not unusual that as used as you are to change of cultures the biggest one you will ever have is so-called reverse culture shock, as going ‘back home’ has not prepared you emotionally to how your life away has affected you – and how much your own country has changed.
The hardest part of ‘going back home’ – when it wasn’t part of the original plan – is the ever-looming question: It this it? You search for alternatives, new jobs and long back to what you know as your life. (Tip: Make sure you are on LinkedIn, and check job sites like this one: International Jobs and International Career Employment)
When the choice however is yours – there are options. When speaking to friends who are planning (oh! Yes! We like that!) for their tomorrows the concept of settling down somewhere seems odd. While the settler in us doest not come alive until later in life, there is a truth to be told of wanting to stop at some point. The moves will not continue, as you are retiring, leaving your job, or maybe met someone. At this point while settling is not part of the nomadic spirit, we do long for it. It is perhaps not a ‘home’ we are looking for but a point of reference to finally unpack that box. We yearn to find somewhere to put down our collection of well-travelled goods and precious memorabilia.
International Living: Options for Tomorrow
Looking at the options, some choose to find a place in an international setting that combines ‘settling down’ with the international life we know.
Others move to their country of nationality and often experience a sort of trauma as life is not as expected. They find coping mechanisms though social clubs, gatherings, or extensive travel. Now here is where you do again need very deep pockets, which is certainly not given.
Some find a small corner, somewhere where life is anything but hectic, and revel in peace, quiet and everyday routine. The international life can take its toll, so a country cottage where you watch the seasons change is perhaps a very calm way forward?
If you are lucky to find your small corner on earth this can be a salvation. It may have little connection with your actual place of nationality, but can feel like ‘home’ as you are surrounded by collections, memories and feelings of what ‘home’ is for you.
As a third generation international nomad, I know how important having a small memento is. Equally finding a place that you can relate to has become more important as the years go by. I have such place, and it feels good – very good. Whatever happens, I know I can go there, and this is like having a well hidden secret.
Do you live everywhere and nowhere? What is home to you? Please share, comment and contribute you thoughts 🙂
Recommended and Related:
- What is a Third Culture Kid? – tckid
- TCK World: The Official Home of TCKs – TCKWorld
- Repatriation Tips : How To Move Back Home – Move One InMotion
- How To Make Relocations Easy for Kids – Expat Child
- 4 Signs of Relocation Stress – 2moveabroad.com
- Books From Amazon.co.uk :
Is this you? Please Comment – Here or on Facebook:
Subscribe to Newsletter and More
Inspiration to Feel, Be and Do Good