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Home is where the Expat is!

As Internationals we often find ourselves questioning our sense of belonging. Where is home? Where is the place I can call home?

“It may be that writers in my position, exiles, or emigrants or expatriates, are haunted by some sense of loss, some urge to reclaim, to look back … “(Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands) 

What does “Home” mean to us Internationals? 

Defining home can be tricky the longer we have been away from our home country. Home for many of us is our immediate family, the experiences and rich cultural knowledge we have gained, it is our past, our present, and our future. It is the place where we feel safe and loved. Home gives us a feeling of belonging. As Internationals we desperately cling to our memories of ‘home’ because they keep us connected. We stay loyal to our home country through memories and feelings of nostalgia. It is a deep longing and often it can be represented by a feeling of loss, a deep void, and sadness. In order to adjust to life in a new host country, expats fiercely rely on and reinvent their idea of ‘home’ based on the sentiments of their homeland. Departure from the homeland is proceeded by a period of grieving, which involves mourning the loss of the old home, homesickness, as well as nostalgia and remembrance, eventually culminating in the accomplishment of arrival. For me, home is in the relationships I have established, the communities I belong to, my memories and most importantly, in people. 

Framing the Expat Memory 

Our Expat memory links our present with the past, the here and there, self and others, it is a comfort zone that we gladly revisit. Some studies, such as the one conducted by Leon and Rebecca Grinberg in 1989 regarding migration and exile, note that factors such as the nature of migration, personality of the individual, age and character traits, all have a great influence on the emigration experience as well as the aftermath. Migration has been characterised as a traumatic experience (for some, not for all) largely due to the feelings of helplessness and loss. Very often as Expats, we go through a process of mourning after arriving in the new host country. The cause is the absence of people who were present in the previous environment as well as the absence of familiar places. Therefore, the memories used to hold on to the past may be interpreted as a place of transition. Our memories of home play an important part in the adjustment process and coping with change. Memory can become a tool that takes on the role of a mediator between the past and the present. Awareness and understanding are very important when adjusting. Expatriation is an emotional journey, therefore both positive and negative emotions will surface. I can not emphasise enough, how important it is to be aware that this is a process which is perfectly normal. Gaining an understanding of the cultural adjustment phases, expanding emotional resilience, discovering and implementing mindfulness, physical activity and tools such as journaling can be very helpful. For some moving abroad can bring on significant life changes and often analysing the past can change the present. Change is a constant and so, we are on a journey even if we are not always fully aware of it. Eventually, we may feel that we have arrived in the sense that our cultural identity has made peace with the culture that surrounds us. However, the memories of home are etched in our minds forever. Expat identities are in a continuous transition, shifting from one culture to the next, crossing imaginary boundaries which force them to adjust to a New World all over again. 

Kathy Borys Siddiqui

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