This is Not Home

I’ve read a lot of articles over the years about defining home.  It’s a big deal in the expat world as it’s a part of our identity. And yet it’s an issue I have struggled with since the moment we left the US 5 1/2 years ago.  People ask – where are you from??  Where is home?  Well, we’re American and we are from Boston.  Or is it?  That’s who we are, but is that where we call home?  When I speak of going “home” – where am I talking about?  Is it Boston, Barcelona, or even here in the Netherlands?  Some days it’s none.  Others, it’s all three.

And it is especially difficult because the children have a very different definition on where home is from mine.  In fact, Josh, too, sees home as a different place.  How is it possible that four people from the same place can define “home” so differently?

Is home where we are from?  Where we are born?  Is it where our families are?  Our friends?  Or is it the place where we feel most comfortable in our own skin?  Is it where people speak your language and “get” you because they have grown up in the same culture you have?  Or like the saying goes, “home is where the heart is”.

And while I go back and forth on trying to define home, recently I had that ah ha moment. It was the realization as to why this is not my “home”.  It is because I have been constantly trying to replicate what home means to me.  To do the things that remind me of home and make me smile – things like apple picking, playing with the kids in the neighborhood, having spontaneous barbecues with friends, celebrating milestones with family, the holidays,  knowing where to go to buy things you need (seriously, I know I’ve talked about this before, but who buys a muffin pan at a hardware store?), people speaking your language.  The list could go on and on.

And what I’ve recognized is that this IS NOT HOME.  I cannot replicate a place that is so different than where I currently live. This place I now call home doesn’t have the history, the memories or the family of the place that I define as “home”. And in a sense, it never will.  In order to make this new place feel like home, I need to let go of this feeling of defining home by this place we are most comfortable with and move forward, embracing the differences that make this place special too.  That make it different from the place I define as home.  For us to start new traditions and find new things to do.  And while we will always miss our family and miss the “simpleness” of our lives at home, we cannot recreate it in another country.

That doesn’t mean I’m ready to toss aside the place I call home.  By no means.  I miss home EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.  But I’m never going to feel like I belong here or anywhere else until I get past defining what home really means.  So for now, it will be this.  Home is where my little family is.  Home is the place we are currently taking up roots and we will do our best to embrace this place for what it is and to integrate in our own way and in our own time.  And while I know that it doesn’t have the comfort of the place that I have been calling home for so many years, nor the same people, it has lots of great places to discover and people for us to meet.  For now, this is our home.

And so, since I’ve been really struggling to find my place here in the Netherlands, more so than I did in Spain, I’m determined to make this new definition of home my mantra. It won’t be easy but then, expat life rarely is.  But we didn’t take on this “adventure” because it was the easy choice, now did we??

Knuffels en kussen,

Julie

14 thoughts on “This is Not Home

  1. This question about how somewhere does or doesn’t feel like home has been rattling around in my head this week. We’re currently on holiday in Florida and having a brilliant time. But I’m also really looking forward to getting home just because it’s where I feel most comfortable. Which then makes me worry about leaving that home when we move to Pretoria in August. And how long it will be before that house will feel like “home”….if it ever will…

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    • I’m very jealous of your trip to FL because as you know the weather in Northern Europe… not so great 😉 After all these years of living abroad, do you have a different sense of where or what home is? And I agree, home is where you are most comfortable – after any trip we take, I look forward to getting home. It’s where our “stuff” is, where our routines are, the kids friends, etc. But the true comfort, the history, etc is somewhere else for me. But I think recognizing that we are always making new memories, perhaps that will change??

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      • Home has always been England for me, I’ve never doubted that. But it’s only since having children, buying a house and them starting school that I have really found a place that I can see myself putting down roots. At least, I can see the children putting down roots there. I still wonder if we won’t end up moving on permanently once they’ve left home. Have even considered buying somewhere here in Florida and splitting our time during retirement between the US and the UK. But that’s still a long way away…. Anything could happen!

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  2. Clara do you think England has always been home from you because your parents reinforced it that way when you were growing up abroad? Was it always the place you went back to? I feel like we’ve always called the US home and yet my oldest son says he doesn’t consider it home – he considers Spain to be home.

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  3. Julie, sorry only just seen your comment! I am half way through writing another blog post (which will go up on Monday) about how and why I have always felt British, despite all our moves. I think it’s a combination of things: moving so many times, to so many places, so that the UK was the only constant; we always had a house there so returned to the same place from the time I was 4 untll I left home; my granny was also another constant and we would go and stay with her even when we were at boarding school; the fact that my father worked for a very British institution so we were constantly around other Brits; the fact that we went to an International school and not a local school (where we fought to promote our Britishiness in the face of a fairly overwhelming American culture, as this was previously an American International school in Manila); the fact that I went to a boarding school in the UK from when I had just turned 13. It’s interesting that your son is saying that; even though we arrived in St Lucia when my older daughter was three and left when she was five, and the younger one was one and three, I don’t think either of them ever thought of it as “home”. I don’t know wht – maybe it’s the way we talk to them about England?
    I wonder if your son will eventually feel the same way about the Netherlands, or whether it’s Spain that will always be his “home”?

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    • It’s interesting because we’ve always done the same – reinforced that the US was “home home” and that Spain (and now the Netherlands) is home for now. Up til this year, we have kept our house – we will be selling it this summer while we are home. But even with the house, we’ve always had it rented except for one summer while we have been gone – so we’ve always stayed with family during our time home each summer. I think they see the US as vacation and not home. That being said, who knows what will happen when we return (someday). I think he’s had some good formative years in Spain – ages 5-10 where he’s built very different relationships than he had in the US which he left at age 5.

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      • Does he also speak Spanish? Did he intergrate well into the local community? These things must make all the difference. Or, as with so many things in life, who knows why one child is one way and another another way! My two daughters have been raised the same but are like chalk and cheese. Anyway, if he ends up calling Spain home, there could certainly be worse places for you to be visiting in your retirement. Tapas….manchego….Rioja…mmmmm

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      • He does speak Spanish – and I agree, there are worse places to retire! My other son, the younger one actually feels more American and would be happy to live back in the USA. Like you said – chalk and cheese! It’s the same in our house!

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  5. I’m a lifer expat, married to another expat, raising our child as an expat in a third country. Nowhere is home! Or home is different for all three of us. It never ceases to amuse my daughter that my mother, father, brother (also an expat) and I have four different accents based on where we’ve lived, and now work. Home is London for now, a nice, big metropolis where we just blend in. The forever home? Who knows?

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    • It sounds like you have a great open mind about “home”. I do my best to do that, but some days it’s so hard, especially when living in a language you don’t speak fluently! I guess as they say, “home is where the heart is”, right??

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