As an expat, finding your sense of home can be a difficult concept to grasp. Is it the place you were born? The place you grew up? The place you’re currently residing or the place you plan to go “back” to? This week, we have guest blogger, Brittney Strange of Life of an Expat Parent explore that concept, drawing from her own experiences of being on the move.
When I was young we moved four times. We weren’t a military family – those people who could bubble wrap their lives blindfolded in 12 hours and move thousands of miles away without skipping a beat. Ostensibly, anyway. Neither were we the family who had deep foundations in a house that’s whole history belonged to us, like an unspoken family member. A new home still felt like an intimidating step, but I didn’t feel we needed to grieve the house we were leaving behind. Instead, we were the family arriving to our new house at 11pm in the pitch black while my dad shouted at me, at 12 years old, to move the contents in hastily and quietly so I didn’t wake our new neighbours – like a sort of reverse burglary.
Back then, establishing a sense of home seemed simpler after a move. It was wrapped up in our family traditions like putting the Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving. Home was in the familiar - the smell of my grandfather’s aftershave hanging in the air when they would visit. Home was that drive over the bridge with the city’s skyline in the distance, reminding me that loved ones and my favourite steak sandwich were near. And, of course, home was eventually in the bricks and mortar. It was that space that held your secrets and saw you in your best and worst moments.
All of those things that defined home to me were stripped away when, after university, I packed my life into two suitcases and moved to England. Those seemingly timeless traditions suddenly became finite and the familiar was instead 3,000 miles away. It was replaced by foreign faces, a strange sort of English, and something called “Bank Holidays”. And while I happily embraced these new opportunities, and would eventually accept England as my indefinite home, these experiences informed me, with great acuity, that I was still a foreigner. I was left wondering whether I would ever belong anywhere.
Eight years later I find myself still wondering that sometimes because, here’s the thing, belonging matters. It’s not always easy to figure out how to achieve that when you are an expat.
Those things which represented home to me in my childhood certainly still play a significant part in figuring it all out so I’ve started new traditions – erecting a Christmas tree after Thanksgiving has been replaced by a viewing of ‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles’ in preparation for Thanksgiving. It has evolved from the smell of a grandfather’s aftershave to the smell of my daughter’s skin after her bath. Instead of a skyline, it’s a church ruins on an isolated hill in Southwest England where my husband proposed. Still, all of this leaves me questioning whether I really belong - because there is more. After eight years I’ve learnt that to find a sense of home you must let yourself belong to others - to know people deeply and to allow yourself to be known. Terrifying, hard work and, perhaps, the highest hurdle of expat life, but when it is found nothing feels like home more than this.
About the author
Brittney is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio and now lives in Southwest England. She is a Project Worker in youth homelessness prevention, but is currently enjoying every minute of her maternity leave with the little girl who made her an expat parent. She welcomes contact with other expats across the world. Contact her on Twitter @expatparent or subscribe to Life of an Expat Parent.