The Siren Song of Home Leave
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.
Facebook: Expats in Adelaide
March 18, 2011 @ 6:11 am
We might have to agree to disagree – but I could write an entire post on that! You sound lucky to have settled easily;)
March 10, 2011 @ 11:19 am
Andrew, I think this takes a long time to achieve for a lot of expats!
“I think the hallmark of an expat is that feeling of existing happily in two worlds nearly at the same time.”
March 13, 2011 @ 10:19 am
It can take a while or it can just work. This has some to do with the mindset and how hard you resist that state. It ends up being about balance, which is often really difficult to achieve (at least for me). Maybe “existing happily” is too strong and what you are hesitating about, but “existing without major problems” sounds weird. It is the act of thinking it normal to go to the grocery store and not notice the brands that are different from home. Or not complaining endlessly about the host country and meaning it.
March 8, 2011 @ 5:20 am
I’m very lucky in that no one back home puts any pressure, or really asks, if and when I might move home. The biggest difficulty is finding the time to see and do everything I want to while home.
March 8, 2011 @ 2:55 pm
That’s great! Most of the time my family is happy for me, but these questions tend to bubble up when I visit at home. I’m glad that yours let you just get on with he regular crazyness (as many people and as much as possible in a short time) of a home visit. 🙂
March 7, 2011 @ 8:28 pm
This is such an interesting topic to me! I sort of struggle with it to some extent – as probably most expats do to. I go home to Germany at least once a year and shoot for twice if I can manage somehow. My stays are usually short, but I still enjoy them. What makes it difficult sometimes are expectations of friends and family back home… “When are you coming back?” is a question I hear often and that I find difficult. I am equally happy in both worlds and wish that people could understand that the choice is not so easy. Do you have similar expectations from your family back home?
March 8, 2011 @ 7:48 pm
I think the hallmark of an expat is that feeling of existing happily in two worlds nearly at the same time. So sometimes it is quite difficult to deal with only being in one world or the other fully.
My mom every so often talks about when or if I ever move back. That is about the most pressure I get now a days from home. I get oddly more pressure from the German side asking me if I will ever move back.
March 9, 2011 @ 3:32 pm
The German side? Crazy! Maybe they don’t understand how you could prefer Germany over your home country/city…. I guess the grass is always greener (for those who haven’t actually tried it…)
March 13, 2011 @ 10:15 am
The grass can certainly BE greener, but you never now what they have done to make it that way. Tons of work? Paint? Piles of manure? So sometimes the question isn’t whether the grass IS greener, but whether greener is better and even if it is, is it worth it?