I will also be heading home in June after over three years as an expat for a “home leave”, so this topic is close to my heart too. In this guest post, Suzer expands upon one of her posts about going home again. The mix of identities that an expat has to deal with “going back.” Check out her blog for more expat tales from Australia.– Andrew
For the first time in three years, I had a trip back to my home country that lasted longer than the accompanying jetlag. My husband and I spent a glorious month in the US, even taking a side trip from my home town of Chicago to enjoy a week in New Orleans for my birthday. Three years on from our marriage, and just as long since we’d left Down Under for a holiday together, it was a well deserved escape from Adelaide in winter. Along with the vacation from reality, though, came the confused feelings that arrive as a result of home leave.
The expat going home for a visit doesn’t typically term it a holiday or vacation, but calls it home leave. We travel to visit family and friends, and if we’re lucky we also get to relax and refresh. In order to do both the former and the latter, we need an employer that will allow appropriate time off, because you can’t do it in a week or two without feeling absolutely exhausted afterwards. One of the benefits of living outside of the US is that I can actually get the time off I need to have a reasonable amount of work life balance. Ever since leaving my country of origin over 5 years ago, I’ve made it a priority to get back at least every 1-2 years for a visit. Every subsequent time I get back to Chicago, I feel a little different about where I’ve come from and where I’m going.
Generally, expats feel a pull between two identities – that of the person we were in our homeland and the person we have become in our new country. At no time is this feeling more present than in the midst of home leave. On this past visit, I left Australia as a (finally) proud South Australian, and landed in Chicago wanting to raise my arms up and clap upon landing in my home town. Here in Oz, I am a wife, a homeowner, and sometimes, an outsider. In Chicago, I feel like the diva that only emerges outside of Australia these days. I whip around on expressways (on the right side of the road) without having to print a map ahead of time, I stay out late and challenge the bouncers at my regular drinking establishments, and catch up with friends who I’ve known for a lifetime, as comfortable as if we’d just seen each other yesterday. I know the customs. I can shop late, request an apple martini with Absolute Mandarin without the bartender looking confused, and ultimately, just feel like I belong.
Towards the end of this recent trip, I was almost afraid to leave – knowing that the confidence I was feeling wouldn’t follow me back to Adelaide. There are always tears in the airport, and the relinquishment of Chicago Suzer. And there is the feeling that the confidence, power, and ease that comes from being in one’s own environment isn’t really worth giving up. And then I get on the plane, and 30 hours later, upon landing in Adelaide, the siren song of home slowly dissipates. Within a few days, I realise that Australia really is becoming home for me. I like my house, my marriage is maturing in a wonderful way, and I love my job. While these two identities will undoubtedly feel conflicted again in the future, as time passes, it’s not as difficult to recognise myself in Australia.
The pieces are falling into place, far from where I come from, and while I may not be Chicago Suzer, I’m happy with the person I am becoming.
About the Author: Suzer is an expat who has lived in the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and of course, the US. She has now settled down in Adelaide, South Australia, after meeting her Aussie husband on a backpacker tour of Ireland.
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