Home is such a complicated idea for so many expats, it certainly is for me. I wrestle with where it is, what it looks like, how it feels.
One of the definite benefits of being a small part of the Families in Global Transition 2017 Pascoe-Parfitt Writing Residents’ extended team is having to revisit some of the sessions from the conference. With so much to take in over three packed days, I’m still trying to process everything I heard. However, having to write an article on Dr. Cate Brubaker’s thought provoking ‘Expanding Your Tribe’ Kitchen Table session gave me a wonderful opportunity to reflect, not just on the themes of our discussion, but also on my ideas about ‘home’.
During Cate’s session, she asked us to think about four key words – home, global, expat and tribe. Her argument is that in challenging our own thinking about fundamental concepts such as these, we can begin to think differently about our experiences, and as a consequence, find new ways of coping with them. Cate’s focus in this session was on equipping us to expand our tribe on re-entry to our home countries but I think her ideas are equally applicable to those of us far from our home country. Certainly, it left me thinking more about what ‘home’ means to me.
Home is such a complicated word for me. I found myself talking recently to colleagues about dinner with a friend from ‘home’, meaning Belfast. And yet, I go ‘home’ to my house in Texas every night after work. We have been known to refer to Ireland as ‘home, home’ to distinguish it from ‘Texas home’ or ‘Norway home’.
Yet when I do go home to Ireland, it doesn’t feel like home. I’m a visitor, an interloper into the life that has gone on just fine without me. While I have a home in Texas, it is still not my home in the sense of the place to which I belong. Or is it?
The idea of home and what it means to us was a recurring theme during #FIGT17NL – the TCK who is most at home in an airport lounge; the serial expat who has made a conscious decision to create a place that is home for her scattered families, a place to reunite and meet when time and travel commitments allow; the empty nester who feels that home is now somewhat less than it was, although it is still in the same place.
One of the challenges from Cate’s Kitchen Table session was to redefine what home means to us – that it is not just a physical place, but perhaps a sense of being. I’ve wrestled with this idea in the weeks since FIGT but gradually my own definition of home has started to take shape.
My definition of home isn’t about Ireland, or Texas or Norway or anywhere in between. It’s a sense of being ‘at home’ – a sense of all being well with the world, a sense of being accepted and valued, a sense of belonging and a sense of being part of something bigger than oneself; a sense of being at peace with my situation.
So, there are places and situations all over the world in which I feel ‘at home’.
I’m ‘at home’ in my best friend’s house in Michigan, or my friends’ home in Canada.
I’m ‘at home’ as a guest in the home of an old friend in Amsterdam, even though we met in Stavanger and I’d never seen her new home.
I’m ‘at home’ the moment I walk in the door of the animal shelter where I volunteer.
I’m starting to feel at home at my new job.
I’m ‘at home’ with my husband and family.
I am most ‘at home’ on a lazy weekend morning with my husband and the dogs, preferably all sprawled out comfortably across our bed.
I was ‘at home’ at the FIGT conference, even though I knew only a handful of people in the room, in a strange hotel room, in a strange city.
And sometimes, if I’m lucky, I am completely at home with myself. Where I live now, where I’m from and where I may be going in the future, are not as important as that sense of being comfortable with myself and in my own skin; something which I think allows me to be ‘at home’ in so many different situations and places.
Perhaps the idea of being completely at home with yourself is the key to expanding your tribe, expanding our horizons and managing those ‘new location’ or ‘re-entry’ blues. In another excellent FIGT session, Doreen Cumberford argued that we need to build our tribe from the inside out, starting with being clear about our vision for our lives, our purpose and then look for people who will help us achieve these things.
In other words, we need to learn to be ‘at home’ with ourselves before we can feel ‘at home’ with others or in new surroundings. Knowing what will make you happy in life, regardless of the location, means that you can hopefully be ‘at home’ with yourself.
Thinking more purposefully about home and the concept of being ‘at home’ over the last few weeks has helped me enormously. I think it has helped me cope better with my post-FIGT, back to ‘real’ life bump. I think it is helping me to be happier in the life that I have here in Texas and to gain a better self of my own identity as an expat.
I hope that wherever you are today, you can find a place where you can be ‘at home’.
You can learn more about Cate Brubaker’s work at www.smallplanetstudio.com
Doreen Cumberford also has great resources at www.expathub.us