This summer will be my fifteenth year in America. Fifteen years ago I moved away from The Netherlands, from the country I considered home.
When you’re home, everything has its place. You’re fully aware of your surroundings and your favorite hangout spots are within reach.You have your childhood room in the house you have known for a while. You can navigate around your neighborhood and can rely on comfort food.You have the familiarity of your friends and your family, and you even have a routine and a daily commute (in my case, a bike that used to take me to school every day…rain or shine).
I’ve realized over time and through travel that, for me, home is not defined by geographical parameters.
But in 2000, all those familiar aspects of “home” changed. I moved to New Jersey in the United States, and needed to start from scratch. People sometimes forget I’m an expat since it’s been so long, but part of me will always feel different. And, different does not mean isolated or sad, but it does mean different.
When friends talk about their favorite childhood American TV shows, of different foods they grew up with, or mention they still frequently see their elementary school friends, it can be tough to relate. Another experience I won’t forget is the first time I tried root beer. I honestly was not sure what to make of it or what to say about it. Was this a drink that you needed to grow up with to truly appreciate? On the flip side, when I’ve offered black licorice (very popular in The Netherlands) to friends here, I get a very “love it or hate it”reaction, or a hilarious comment about Twizzlers.
So, how do you deal with the differences and how do you have a conversation when you don’t necessarily feel you share common ground? Instead of solely focusing on the differences (though I think these can also make for interesting conversation), I have personally found that there are plenty of similarities between people no matter where we’re from. You can find ways to relate to someone when it comes to their personal interests, or even on an educational or career level. But you have to be open and willing to get to know new people to also make yourself feel more at home.
Moving Overseas: Redefining Home as an Expat
When you move somewhere new, there’s an opportunity for growth, and another for self-reflection, as you leave a piece of yourself behind. And, that’s not a bad thing. It’s a simple reality of being an expat. The beauty of expat life, however, is that while you’re learning to adapt, you can still share parts of your cultural identity with others (even if that piece of licorice doesn’t translate well…).
How do you assimilate and create your new home?
Moving abroad is not always easy, and you go through a range of emotions. I recall being excited and curious about moving to the US, but also longing for familiarity and even feeling slightly homesick. It’s perfectly fine to reminisce about what you’re leaving behind and the memories of your “old” home, and to then use that to fuel what you do to establish your new home.
You’re not tied to one place nor do you constantly have to be on the move to find or create your home.
I’ve realized over time and through travel that, for me, home is not defined by geographical parameters. As an expat, you’ll undoubtedly get questions like “Where do you feel most at home?” after a certain amount of time has passed. It can be tough to answer that, especially if you can feel that way in different locations as you live there or even travel through them. Family and friends have played a large role in creating a sense of home for me here.
But, I think the most important lesson I have learned is that you’re not tied to one place nor do you constantly have to be on the move to find or create your home. Meaningful friends and learning experiences will follow no matter where we are, and travel is a priceless component of shaping these.
Moving Overseas: Redefining Home as an Expat top photo credit: Moyan Brenn // Moving overseas*