Expat Life: Where is Home When You Live Abroad?

Updated March 26, 2018


It is a bitter-sweet thing, knowing two cultures. Once you leave your birthplace nothing is ever the same – Sarah Turnbull

When the plane touched down at Auckland airport, it had been almost five years since I had left New Zealand to move abroad. In that time I’d spent a scant 6 days in the country, and I couldn’t help but wonder, was it even really home anymore? It had been on my mind on the lead up to our trip and I knew I’d be thinking about it over the next six weeks of our honeymoon.

Of course, New Zealand will always be where I’m from, but I’ve now spent a large part of my adult life away, including almost 3 years of it in Scotland, I wasn’t sure it was somewhere that I could describe as home, or more importantly, that would FEEL like home.

The complicated questions

Growing up I never thought the question, “where are you from?” was a complicated one. Although I breathe an inner sigh whenever I hear it, “I’m from New Zealand but I live in Scotland” pretty much rolls off my tongue now. Usually, it leads to more questions which sometimes I have no problem getting into a conversation about, but at other times, I just feel a bit over it! When we were travelling in New Zealand it was even more complicated because apparently, my accent has worn off enough to not be obvious, or my husband’s accent makes people assume we were both from somewhere else.

Anyone who has travelled long-term or moved abroad has faced a similar line of questioning at some point. When you travel long-term, you get to a point where you’re kind of over having the same conversation again and again. At least if you stop travelling at some point, it stops! As an expat, you might have to deal with it for life!

Where is home for expats?

So why live abroad?

Because it’s awesome? Well, a lot of the time anyway!

Choosing to live abroad is not easy. Sure, I’ve talked about how moving abroad solo can be an amazing decision, but it doesn’t mean it’s a simple one. There are ups and downs, moments where you view your new homeland with rose-tinted spectacles and others where you can’t understand why people would ever want to live there, including yourself.

Sometimes we move for work, other times for a partner or family, and sometimes, just because we’re curious about what else is out there in the world. Aetna International recently released their Expat Family Health and Wellness Survey for 2018 and I found it so interesting to read about people’s reasons for moving and how being an expat could impact on their wellness in both positively (think climate, careers, and general lifestyle) and negatively (think missing loved ones, finances, and culture shock).

Being an expat is complicated guys…

Why Live Abroad?

Returning home to live after living abroad

Moving abroad doesn’t mean you’ll stay in one country forever. I should know, since excluding New Zealand I’ve called 5 other countries home at one point or another! Sometimes we move on to somewhere new or make a decision to return home. I’ve returned home twice after living abroad, and each time I was struck not by how much it had changed, but by how much I had changed. I had a different outlook on some things, and other things seemed less important.

It’s exciting to rediscover all the things you love about home, but once it becomes routine again, then you can start to get reverse culture shock. Post-travel depression is a real thing, and when you’ve been away for a long time or coming home wasn’t entirely your decision, this can have a huge impact on your wellbeing.

If you’re happy to return home, you might not notice it at first, but then small things may start to niggle. You’ll find yourself missing things from your adopted country, wondering why your home country can’t do something in the same way as it’s done over there. It’s completely normal, and I found that once I evaluated what was bothering me and tried to incorporate things into my life I’d loved away that things got better. For example, when I lived in Canada I absolutely loved getting outdoors and walking, so I made an effort to do it when I returned to New Zealand.

Expat Life: Where is Home When You Live Abroad?

Visiting home after living abroad

To me, the weirdest thing about living overseas has been returning home for a visit. It can be a double-edged sword. You may find that it confirms your decision to be abroad. Maybe you feel out of touch with life there, or your friends have all moved on to different paths and while reminiscing can be fun, you seem to live a different life now. The visit home is nice, but you’re relieved to return to what you now feel like is your home.

By contrast, you might find yourself torn, knowing you want to be in your expat home but you miss your home country enough to think you could move back there and be happy. It’s easy to see all the good things and none of the bad, just like a holiday in any other location.

Visiting Home When You Live Abroad

I find that being an expat can almost be like being two people at the same time. Each life feels comfortable and familiar when you’re in it, but there’s always a little something missing too. It’s an otherworldly feeling to think that your two lives can never ever merge into one, no matter how much you wish they could.

What I’ve come to realise is, there are no absolutes. An expat may always feel like a part of or split between two (or more!) countries and worlds. Instead of looking it as losing out, I have to look at it as gaining more. I choose to view the positives of this as much as possible, although of course at times that’s easier said than done. Especially when I just want to pop around and see friends and family instead of calling them!

So did I feel like New Zealand was home? Surprisingly, I really did. It was like an old friend I hadn’t hung out with in ages, but everything just clicked back into place. Of course, things would be very different if I was moving back for good, but I was happily surprised that I didn’t feel like an outsider in my home country.

But was I happy to return to Scotland? Yes, of course, but then I missed New Zealand!

Is New Zealand home if you live overseas?

Each home I’ve had abroad has changed me in some way. Whether it’s from the way I speak to habits I’ve picked up or ideas that have changed my perspective. Does that make me forever an outsider? Always somehow different? Maybe. But I can live with that, for the way it’s enriched my own life. I’ve always considered my decisions to move abroad to be amongst the best of my life, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Sonja x

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Expat Life: Where is Home When You Live Abroad?

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