Living Abroad: Thoughts On Visiting “Home”

At some point or another in the life of every expat, there comes a moment when you must book a trip home. Maybe you have 3 weeks holiday and are dying to go back for some familiarity. Perhaps you have a family event to return for. Or you might be fully aware you have been away too long and should go “home.”

But what is “home” to someone with a nomadic lifestyle? I have previously discussed my thoughts on expatriation and the stress and conflicted ties to our homelands that arise from taking on this lifestyle. Yet, I don’t think I fully fleshed out a dirty part of the expat experience: the anxiety specific to visiting home.

I recently took part in an extensive discussion group that included expats from around the world. Common themes came up ranging from: how often expats return home versus others coming to see them, feeling guilty if we can’t see everyone yet being protective of the time we have, having lists of things we need to accomplish or buy during our brief period back in the homeland and how exhausting it is to to keep everyone happy while dealing with jet-lag, the cost of travel, etc.  Throughout all of this, there was one common word that came up over and over. So much so I started to put a tick next to it every time someone used the word: Pressure.

What kind of pressure? To name a few (in no specific order from my discussion group):
-not make anyone feel left out when you visit
-spend equal time with family and friends
-to come back more
-to visit 698 people in one weekend because “if you have a spare moment, it would be nice…”
-to not complain that we spent a fortune on this trip to sit in your living room because you “don’t feel like going out”
-to book a week’s holiday and have no one take a single day off to hang out with you
-keep the peace
-go to church so everyone can say “hello”
-act more local and less foreign
-go back to living a life you don’t live anymore
-drive 2 hours to see people that expect you to come to them after you took a plane or 4 to get 99% of the way there
-to discuss your eventual and apparently evident return home
-to make your foreign-born child(ren) instantly settle into a culture they’ve never known because X parent is from there
-to satisfy everyone else’s “missing you” emotions and not take care of your own homesick emotions

Selfish? Maybe. Privileged? Yes. Real? VERY!

So what is it about expats that makes this pressure feel so real? We know we were the ones that chose to ‘galavant’ around the globe and no one else removed us from the lives of those back home. We are aware that meant being far away from birthdays, weddings, funerals, baby’s first steps, girl’s nights out, boys weekends away, etc. We know this. We painfully grieved it in our first year. Trust me. But somewhere along the line we start to internalise and feel a disconnect from our old lives and protective of our new life. It’s as if every time someone says “when are you coming home?” we add 6 more mental months to how long we will live away. Do we see this question as people assuming we must be dreadfully unhappy away from what makes THEM happy? I think so. We feel questioned. Cornered, if you will, by the life we chose to leave within the framework of the life we are currently living.

I know some expats that go home every single year, twice a year, and love it. I stepped away from the return for a few years and took a break from feeling pressure. Family visits are amazing and should feel that way. They should not feel expected and evident. Yes we chose to leave but we don’t have to choose to come back, either. There wasn’t a malicious reason why I took a break, in fact the reasoning was quite positive. My little family was growing and we wanted to spend more time together – just us. My husband travels a lot with his work and we started to feel very protective of his holiday days from work. Holidays and vacations are important for families – be it a staycation or exotic travel. You bond, reconnect, experience life together away from technology, homework, housework and other additives to the daily grind.

We made that a priority. It was the right choice.

But here I am. I am heading home on Saturday to take part in my cousin’s wedding.  I have been excited about this since I got the save the date!! This means lots and lots of family time with those I miss dearly. Aunts, Uncles, cousins, nieces, nephew, brothers, SIL, parents, you name it! The packing pile on the dining room table has been growing daily and with it, my anxiety. I realise I don’t have time to catch-up with many people outside the family during this trip. For that, I am sorry but family comes first.

I don’t have a lot of answers for other expats trying to navigate the WHY DO I FEEL SO MUCH PRESSURE? questions they have in regards to visiting home. It should feel amazing to get on a plane and make a long journey back to our old selves. I have no doubt much of this pressure is internalised guilt that we can’t be in 900 places at one time. We are very good multitaskers and problem-solvers, us expats, and feeling like we are doing poorly at that can wind us up big time! Maybe we need to be kinder to ourselves.

I am a firm believer in being protective of your family, your health and alone-time but maybe, just maybe, those extra 2 hours it takes to visit an old friend aren’t a bad idea. The “back home people” are important. We have to take care of those relationships, even if that means being more open and saying “I’m not going to see you this time around but you are on my list for my next visit” and hope they get it. If not, your expat family is always there and willing to say “uh huh…totally understand!”  🙂

Photo credit: Fotolia

 

 

 

 

Author: Jennifer Hart

Traveller. Wife. Mother. Bilingual. Hiker. Shopper. Skier. Snowboarder. Soccer midfielder. Marathoner. Canadian. Wine lover. Mama also to a crazy labrador retriever. My running keeps me grounded. My writing keeps me sane. My kids and husband keep me loved. These are our stories, love them or leave them. We may not have a permanent home but we have each other.

8 thoughts on “Living Abroad: Thoughts On Visiting “Home””

  1. Hiya hunni, I was totally into reading your blog, you are such a good writer I think you should write a book of your own about living abroad 🙂

    Anyway, back to the blog. As a friend ‘at home’ I totally understand where you are coming from regarding visiting family and friends and the time involved. As you know this friend will wait and take my turn if and when you get the chance but it’s not the end of the world if I can’t get to see you all, after all there is the thing called the internet, Skype, social media where we can keep in touch and see what’s going on in each others lives. I have made a trip or two to see you and I’m sure I’ll do a few more.

    First and foremost you and yours come first, you need to be happy (of which I know you all are) enjoy each other, life is far too short and the children will be grown up, married and living their lives, so make the most of it I say and I’m sure your parents say the same!

    Keep on enjoying the life as and expat.

    Love to you all xxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Greer. I have so much love for you and your family and it does make me sad that you guys don’t get the attention I would love to give you because ‘others’ take over 😉
      Hopefully I can see you soon. You are always welcome, wherever in the world I am. xoxox

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  2. We are about to head home for the first time since moving to South Africa last year and I’ve decided this time I’m NOT going to be pressurised into seeing everyone. I’ve been there, done that. I’m prioritising close family, the children’s best friends and their cousins. Otherwise everyone we see will be a bonus. I’ll make an effort with the people who have bothered to stay in touch with me since we have been away but otherwise I am NOT spending hours driving across country to see someone because that is the only time they can fit me in….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good luck!!!! I completely agree that you need to prioritise you visits. I hope it goes well for you. I still left feeling ‘selfish’ about my choices but I know I did the right thing for us 🙂

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  3. Thank you for voicing out loud (in such a well articulated fashion!) what most expats feel and think. To me, the pressure grows exponentially when I start thinking about how selfish people must find me when I go “home” and do not have time to see everyone. The guilt trips some people send us on are true roller coasters, with often fairly steep slopes. It is reassuring to read your words, thank you again!

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    1. Thank you! I completely understand using the word ‘selfish’. I panic people think this when really, I’m being protectionist of my time, energy and my family. Hang in there! The best gift we can all give each other is being open about how we feel…and going ‘home’ is a very hard one for me!

      Liked by 1 person

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