Anytime you go ‘home’ (and that in itself is an interesting question for any expat, especially one with as many years I have), the inevitable, ‘When are you coming home?’ question gets raised. It is usually an innocuous and well-meaning query. In fact, the intent behind it is quite lovely. Essentially, what’s really being asked is, ‘When are you coming back to us? We miss you and want you back in our lives.’ However, depending on my mood, my interpretation can sometimes be, ‘Your life isn’t that great over there; you should probably come home already.’ Even at its most genuine, the implication behind ‘coming home’ implies that your ex-pat life is somehow a concept that can be easily ended or changed, when in fact, that is probably the furthest thing from the truth.
Look, I’m certainly not yelling at my friends when this question comes up, but I have to take a moment and remind myself that they haven’t moved countries. They don’t realize the sheer effort it takes to sell off your life and then put the remainder in a box and see it (hopefully) in 3-4 weeks. They don’t know all the stress that goes into a visa process, setting up a household, moving pets, switching banks and finding new friends – all in a place where you are the minority, where the language might be different, where cultural differences can add to the frustration of it all. Furthermore, the idea that I could end professional commitments and other responsibilities to pick up and move to a place that doesn’t exist anymore becomes a bit irritating. The choice to not be ‘home’ is one I live with every day. Thus far, the pros far outweigh the cons, but I know there will be a day where this is no longer the case (see, Doha).
Yes, I might sound like an ungrateful person – I’m aware of this.
And of course, upon further reflection, I think I might have put myself in this position by stating a timeline of ‘1-2 years’ at the beginning of my expat tenure (back in 2007).
I’ve started year ten and there is no compelling reason to return. (Honestly, have you seen the state of the USA these days? Would you be rushing back?)
So, as a suggestion to the expat in your life, I think the better question would be, ‘what are your next steps?’ ‘How is your current job going?’ ‘Would you move somewhere else for better opportunities?’ ‘What do you like best about where you live?’ ‘What are the challenges of living there?’ and of course, the very best question you can ask an expat, ‘Can I come visit?’ (I sincerely LOVE sharing my adopted country with friends and family).
While I know Hubs and I have a few more moves left in us (and spoiler alert, the next place will not be the States), I wish there was a better way to bridge this misunderstanding. I know my friends care about me, but when I visit them, I don’t ask if they are going to up and move somewhere random.
Living overseas is an incredibly rewarding experience and the concept of ‘home’ is often moving target. Now that we’ve transitioned into the long-term phase of expat life, the new question seems to be ‘If you come home, where would you end up?’ Another loaded question that I don’t know the answer to, and am happy not to know just yet.
What about you, fellow expat? How do you deal with the question and concept of ‘home’ from friends and family?