Peeking over the expat edge: what’s next?
For many, counting down the days on the calendar in the run up to your next holiday or even the next big night out is something that fills you with a sense of excitement. For me, however, it fills me only the distinct feeling of unease.
While on the one hand it is a countdown to my two year anniversary in Madrid, the city I moved to almost immediately after finishing university, it is also quite possibly a slow march to the end of my time here.
My internship will be up soon, and as I sit at my desk pondering my next move with the lyrics to the Wave Pictures’ “We Can Never Go Home Again” floating around the office, I start to ask myself how true that sentiment really is for myself and my fellow expats.
Home and away
It may sound strange, insulting even, to those who haven’t spent a portion of their life abroad – what is so wrong with “home”? And the answer is absolutely nothing; but no matter the quality of velvet, sometimes the hand just doesn’t fit the glove.
This is a common affliction among expats. I recently spoke with many of you in a bid to untangle the path that still lies knotted before me, and for whatever reason a sensation that the “homeland is no longer home” was expressed by many travellers.
Life abroad can pan out sweet
While we are away something at home changes. Or perhaps something within ourselves changes. Either way it is a subtle transformation, yet one profound enough to leave us feeling like outsiders when we return, homesick for our foreign land.
And the more time we spend abroad the deeper our roots become. A simple trip to the corner shop becomes a catch-up with your friend behind the till, ending with a gift of bread and sugary chuches; a night at the local bar begins with dos besos and comes to an end with a couple of free rounds after the bill is paid. You spend time developing your life and you become unsure if you’ll ever be ready to give it up, a feeling made stronger by your sense of accomplishment at having achieved this abroad.
Growing up expatriated
Aside from my passport, there is little to suggest that I am from Edinburgh. At the age of 23, I have spent ten and a half years of my life abroad, with the remaining years scattered across the map of Scotland, my accent having become my biggest traitor.
As I have mentioned before, the blame for this nomadic upbringing lies squarely at my mother’s door, her work taking us from Georgetown, Guyana to Georgetown, DC. I became used to my trips back to Scotland only occurring during the holidays, perhaps weakening the association between country and home.
You’ll have to find out for yourself
Quite truthfully, I don’t know why I can’t go home. Perhaps it’s a fear of admitting defeat, a feeling that I couldn’t succeed and tough it out abroad without my family for the first time. Or maybe it’s panic that the adventure might be over, my path from here on in leading me not across the world but merely across town.
I don’t have the answer we’re all looking for, and even if I did it probably wouldn’t be yours. Do what makes you happy until it no longer does, and then find something, or somewhere, else.
Oh, and I don’t really blame you, mum – in fact I thank you for opening my eyes to the world from such a young age, and allowing me to realise that there is more to it than the town you are first introduced to. Just don’t complain if you only see me a couple of times a year.
While this is my story, we all have a different one to tell. What’s yours?