expat life

There’s no place like home

24 Comments 02 August 2012

a bavarian sojourn

This looks like one stylish Dorothy!

Ugh. Yet another emotive guest post about expat life on The American Resident to get you thinking. This post is from the brilliant writer, Emma Raphael. With my sister and her family visiting me right now, and with these expat guest posts I am having an emotional roller coaster! What about you?

Our expat life often starts full of exciting adventure. Our focus is all on where where going and what we’re going to do when we’re there, how we’re going to make the most of our expat life. But then, a few years in, we make a discovery: while we may love our expat life, there is indeed, no place like home.

What a classic line, we all know this Wizard of Oz moment when Dorothy speaks the magic words that will help take her home as she clicks her ruby slippers.

But where is home for an expat? Is it where you grew up, or where you lived the longest or where your bed is at the moment? For me home is where my bed is, where my kitties live, where I feel relaxed and at ease, where I have all the comforts of home. So that’s Essex. But it’s also where I grew up, where memories from many years ago help me to feel immediately relaxed and at home. So that’s Minnesota. And Oklahoma to a certain extent. Home is also where many of my relatives live in Texas, even though I have never lived there, but because I visit there a lot and because my family are there it is kind of home, and home is where he heart is. My home is many places for many reasons.

Emma Raphael, who writes at A Bavarian Sojourn, knows that for her home is where she lived in South West London for 15 years and recently discovered just how emotional it can be to visit home after a time away. Read how Emma’s experience went in her recent visit!

Being an Expat you go through the usual phases of missing things, people, foods, your comfort zones for example, none of it unexpected.  And however long you are away for, those feelings don’t usually change, neither does missing the familiarity of your home country, and the ease of everything that comes with that.

But just recently, for the very first time, I found visiting our old town (that we said goodbye to 3 years ago this September) especially hard.

I spent a day revisiting old haunts, and walking past old necessities such as Nursery schools, the Doctor’s surgery, pubs and restaurants we used to frequent.   Drinking in all the sights we once took for granted – “memory food” for a later date.   All of it familiar territory for the 15 years up until our “Big Move” abroad.

And I found as I walked through the streets (that I still knew like the back of my hand), that if I tried just a little, it was easy to pretend that we still lived there (as if a time warp had taken me back Dr Who style, and none of our current life had actually happened yet!).

A child with a scooter jolts me out of my day-dream, and the realisation hits that, even though I can occasionally visit when I am back (some of my family live nearby), I no longer belong here.  Do we actually belong anywhere?  This town we loved so much is no longer “mine”, it’s no longer the “core” to our lives, and it hurts.  I walk on, blinking back surprise tears as I approach the road we once called home.

I pass the trees that used to act as buffers for my toddlers learning to scoot.  Imposing Victorian houses I once hankered after, and the “new” flats on the corner – built after the bomb damage in the war.   And then I reach the house we loved, stuffed with memories. Our first real home as a family.

From a safe distance (in the hope that no-one spots me!!) I take it all in.   The days we spent there come flooding back – bringing my son home from hospital that very first time, the seemingly never-ending early years of motherhood, street parties, dinner parties, Springs, Summers, Autumns and Winters.  From the special to the more mundane – struggling through the park with a screaming baby, a wayward toddler, and a buggy laden down with shopping bags.  Looking forward to a cuppa when I got in!

I look back on it all with fondness.  And a little bit of me wishes that just for one second, I had that key in my bag, the house was still home, the town was still ours and we could be back there again, for our old life to be ours once more.

But we chose this path for a few reasons, not least to broaden our horizons.  I don’t regret either of the countries we have temporarily called home since, not in the slightest.  And although in this particular post it might sound otherwise, I am still thoroughly enjoying our life abroad.   It’s just that sometimes, and I can’t help it, I completely miss my old life.  Perhaps if Dorothy could lend me a pair of Ruby Slippers, I might just give those heels a click together from time to time, I’ve got these, I might give them a try…

Say hi to Emma on Twitter at @ABavarianSojourn and read more of her beautiful writing on A Bavarian Sojourn!

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24 Comments so far

  1. Thanks so much Michelle for including me, and allowing me to write something! I still can’t read this without welling up. Silly isn’t it? Anyway, being described as a brilliant writer has made my day, thank you :)

  2. tami says:

    I have been in England now for 13 years and i still find it difficult. I have actually stopped going home for visits because emotionally, it was just too difficult for me to get on that plane which took me back here each time. But while I am emotionally conflicted, home is definitely where my family is and that is here for the moment.

    • Michelloui says:

      I completely understand you reasoning about not wanting to go home. I went through that phase because it was just so difficult. The emotional low was terrible. It was having a detrimental effect on my life in the UK. I’ve moved past that and found more effective ways of coping but that was a tough time. Glad you feel your home is here, it must make it easier to feel settled!

  3. Emma, great post. Sums up beautifully taking that trip down memory lane. Talking of which – Michelle, we just got back from Minnesota – all on my blog if you get the chance!

  4. I haven’t lived there for 23 years, but in a way I still think of Hong Kong as home. Although I’m sure if I went back now it would be so different. But London is also home, and now so is Long Island. I’m going to have so many memories of bringing my children up here.

    Lovely post, Emma.

    • Michelloui says:

      Even if HK is different from your memories when you next visit, you will still feel the familiarity that will make you smile and know you’re home. Or, at least in one of your homes!

  5. I had an itinerent childhood following my parents round the world. Home for me like you is many places. For a long time it was where ever my parents were posted even if I rarely visited!

  6. chickenruby says:

    When we upped and moved to South Africa in Jan 2011 it was a one way move, two teens and hubby, leaving 3 adult children in the UK. Home for me has always been where my family are, having moved numerous times as a child and an adult in the UK, we brought all of our personal belongings and recreated home as soon as our container arrived, however having moved twice since (within 3 mile radius) I’m not really sure that I’m that bothered any more about what a home actually is…for me I think my home is where my hand bag is….
    Although we own a ‘home’ in England, we rent it out, so apart from sofas and spare rooms we don’t have a home in the UK anymore and on the last two visits I found myself saying ‘I can’t wait to get home and into my bed’

    • Michelloui says:

      I totally get that–’my bed’ is definitely a definition for my home as well. To me that symbolises all the comforts of home, it’s where I have all my things, my books, my junk drawer, my toiletries, my food, my loft with Christmas decorations in boxes, etc etc, it’s where I feel like I am in my own little microcosm.

  7. Bibsey Mama says:

    I so relate to this post. As an expat you can feel so torn and sometimes all you would like is just to be transported to your old ‘home’ just for some comfort. However, sometimes when you are on a visit ‘home’ you can’t help but feel that you don’t fit anymore… that things have moved on without you.

    • Michelloui says:

      I guess that’s one reason why repatriates can sometimes find moving home so difficult. One aspect of being a long term expat that I guess I don’t have to worry about, but I still miss that home!

      I like your description of being ‘transported to your old home just for some comfort.’ I still get that even if my idea of home is an imaginary, or symbolic place.

  8. I so could have written this, and certainly my own trip back home brought up many of the same feelings.

    England will always be my ‘home’.

    Great post. x

    • Michelloui says:

      How long do you plan on living in Catalunya? Do you think if you lived there longer it would ever become another home to you? Or is that just not possible for whatever reason?

  9. Expat Mum says:

    I’ve been here so long I can’t remember what my life was. Since it was pre-marriage and children, I didn’t really have a “proper” adult life in England, with all its responsibilities.
    However, I was watching the outdoor cycling the other day and they went straight past the end of my aunt’s road near Hampton Court Palace. Since we go there every year as soon as we land at Heathrow, the whole area is very familiar to me and the kids love it. It brought a lump to my throat it did!

    • Michelloui says:

      This is why I relate to your story so much Toni, I moved to the UK right out of university as well so I have never been a ‘proper’ adult in the States. I supposed that helps me feel more like the UK is home because when I read bloggers talking about bills and school parents etc in the States I start to feel completely blank. Even so, I too get a lump in my throat when I see very familiar places on TV as well.

  10. A very touching post – you explain your feelings beautifully. It’s strange, whilst I enjoy visits back to where we came from in England before moving to France, I’ve never felt quite like that. Maybe it’s because we moved a lot in the UK and had lots of tough times that I found it easier to leave it all behind and never look back.

    • Michelloui says:

      I find reading al the very different expat stories so interesting–while we all share a lot of similar feelings, not everyone has the same experience. Thanks for your comment Nikki!

  11. Vegemitevix says:

    Thank you for writing this Emma, I certainly feel close to tears reading it also. So pleased you’re still enjoying your expat life, but loved how you expressed your bitter sweet memories of life at ‘home’.

  12. Thanks all for the lovely comments on my post. It was nice to hear I am not alone in feeling like this at times! :)

    • Michelloui says:

      That’s one of my favourite parts about blogs–we can connect to others and feel things like this x

  13. I actually have a double pronged missing things, London where we lived for 15 years and New Zealand where I grew up. They are so different and when I’m in either I wonder why I left. When the kids are gone I hope we can live in all three places.

  14. Interesting read. I’ve been in London for almost 6 years (with about 10 months break in Colombia then New York), and it sometimes feels like the only place that feels like home. Other times it doesn’t feel like home at all. I can’t say I miss the States much (if at all, apart from family), but being an expat can put you in an odd sort of limbo…


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