Xplainer's Blog

November 10, 2010

Going ‘home’

Filed under: Expat, Memory — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — xplainer @ 10:41 pm

Body of waterMost global travellers will have thought about ‘going home’ one day, even if they have decided to live abroad. But is repatriation tinged with a longing to belong, as much as moving abroad is tinged with a longing for a better life?
For any global traveller, repatriation won’t be a new theme as it basically means ‘going home’. ‘Which is where?’ some of you might ask, with good reason.

Homeland: watery associations

We all have an idea of home, which could be tangible like the place you were born and brought up in, or a culture you have lived in–a sense of belonging which is more related to the people rather than the land. A documentary I watched recently–Water-The great mystery–suggests that memory is held through water, and we carry the blueprint of the water of our birthplace. As the narrator in the documentary says: “Modern science maintains that the water structure of each person’s body is identical to the structure of the water in the place where they were born, therefore our internal connection to the place of our birth is preserved throughout out life, and that means that the concept of homeland has not only a lofty poetical meaning but also a quite specific physical content.”


But whether this poetical feeling has physical or psychic roots, it still exists and is often felt as a deep longing or saudade, a word in Portuguese which gets close to describing this feeling.


Of course you will always ‘miss’ something, from time to time; an occasional feeling that can suddenly creep up on you, or linger. Is this perpetual urge to travel, a moving from place to place, an addiction to this ‘longing’, a way of escaping growing up, a seeking out of an ancestral homeland—perhaps through the subliminal pull of an H2O molecule, a wish to embrace new cultures and broaden horizons (most people confess to this), or is it simply a vestigial instinct developed in the time of the hunters and gatherers when moving on to greener pastures made literal sense.

As veteran expat Elise Krentzel put it upon finally heading ‘home’ to the US after living abroad for several years: “Having tried most of my life to belong, I finally found out what belonging really means. …. To be longing to belong has left me on the outside of what I sought. Now I am being. There is no longing. That is what fitting in means.”

So basically, the source of contentment is within you and you don’t really need to change country to find that.

Running away

So you have decided to move back home anyhow, for whatever reasons, but check that your reasons for going back are realistic. For instance, you move back perhaps because you are tired of having to speak a language you fear you will never master, you are tired of being an ‘alien’, tired of having less flexibility in the job market, tired of the dating scene, food, culture. In this case you are probably running, which isn’t necessarily a negative thing.
Think of why you left ‘home’ in the first place? If any of the reasons are similar, then you are likely running back to the same thing. On the other hand, leaving may be the best thing you can do. After all, the move may just not have worked out for whatever reason, and prolonging the stay may not be a productive thing to do.

Starting over

Repatriates mostly seem to agree that going home is like starting over— the people you left behind will have moved on or even away, places will have changed, things simply won’t be like you remember them. You will be out of touch, just like you were when you moved to a new country, but you will also be able to appreciate things more and see them with fresh eyes. The rolling hills of the Scottish landscape will be a feast if you are repatriating from the Netherlands or the site of sea beating against the rocks may be paradise if you are moving to Cornwall from Madrid. Things you took for granted before; how helpful people might be, or smiley or reserved compared to where you were, can be a welcome awakening.

Danielle Latman who recently repatriated to the US from the Netherlands says: “After returning to the US, everything seemed so much bigger than in the Netherlands! Even in New York City, where I’m from, the streets were wider, houses and apartment buildings were bigger, even the cars were bigger. The Netherlands is a very crowded country with narrow buildings and streets… it was kind of nice and relaxing to feel a bit more room around me.”

Reverse culture shock

Although reverse culture shock is commonly experienced by repatriates, not everyone seems to be hard hit. As Expatica reader, Valerie, who returned to the UK after living 20 years in various countries in Europe says: “The fear of feeling lost and alienated when returning to your roots is something I have heard mentioned many times, and indeed it scared me rather when I myself decided to return to the UK with my three children.” She then raves about how wonderful things turned out. “It is great! I truly never expected to feel so settled again so quickly. People have been more welcoming that I could possibly have hoped for….I only regret that it took so long to make this decision, but hey, I’m here now, living in one of the most beautiful countries of the world, surrounded by warm and friendly people who share my roots, and once more able to enjoy all the essentially English things I had almost forgotten about.”

But it isn’t always that easy, as Danielle Latman finds out:

“It can take time to adjust to the differences in language, customs, etc. Also, prepare to answer the same questions over and over again! Family, friends and acquaintances will want to know what living there was like, how it is to be back, your comparison of the two countries… try to be patient with them too! It can help to develop stock responses so you don’t have to think about it too much.”

Passing the no-return mark

When I moved to France from the UK, a friend told me that if I passed the three-year mark, I’d made it. He said, “you can always come back if you want to, don’t see going home as failure or defeat.” I remember thinking about this at moments when I felt like packing up and going somewhere else—never ‘home’ actually (I did see this as defeat at the time). I did leave France after seven years, for reasons I justify as principally economic.

Now I am happily living in the Netherlands, with two bilingual children and a German boyfriend, having understood that what is important is how good you feel about yourself, the people you surround yourself with, rather than which country you are living in. And just like water molecules moving together, you’ll attract other internationals like yourself, and simply the people you want to.


Photo credits: mikecpeck


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