In the traveler and expat circles we tend to have friends and contacts all over the place. In these situations people often get labeled with their country of origin. “The Spanish girls or the guy from Canada or a bunch of Australians.” Does our “country of origin” define us in some way or is it just a convenient label?
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
I have been in Germany for a little over three years continuously at this point. This summer I will make my first trip back to the US since moving here. At the point I left there I was fully ok with the idea of not going back. Now I kind of excited to see the country again. Here is a list of things I missed and experiences I want to stock up on.
I read a fair amount in the expat blogging world. I enjoy the common themes and interesting people that choose to live like I have. Though I see one theme that almost bugs me. The question of “when you go home”. Not the condition, when you go visit or if you choose to return, but the idea that “when you can’t take it anymore as an expat and have to go home.” Is there an assumption that being an expat is just a phase?
I enjoy and yearn to see the world, but other than that I am a homebody by nature. Actually travel helps me appreciate home in a deeper way. In the reverse, my home life gives me a place to travel away from. The contrast of both is something I need. One without the other seems pointless.
One of the key skills of being an expat is mastering the concept of Between.
Despite my time here, my language skills, my friends and job; I am still an Auslander (foreigner) here. However I have spent so much time here that I don’t think I could go back happily to a single culture world. I am constantly (literally within sentences some days) switching between languages. I wander between living under my own inherited culture and the culture of the locals; and usually end up in the weird mix of both that I have come to associate with expats around here. Being in one world or the other fully doesn’t seem to complete me, I need both. So I live Between them.
I went to a local festival in town the other day. A section of street shorter than an uptown block in New York City was filled with all manner of food and drink stalls, tons of people on benches and three stages. The music was just fabulous. There was a white haired guy on a piano playing Jailhouse Rock with people dancing in the street. There was a calypso style band singing in German in the shadow of the old city gate. And I spent most of my time listening to a country-western setup. I am normally not a fan of the real twangy country, but it really reminded me of home to listen to this group belt out bluegrass, blues, honky-tonk and just plain ole’ country tunes. (even one country tune in German) I grew up in the south, but without the accent. Sure I kin twang wit’ th’ best o’ them, but I don’t naturally talk like that. But you know, listening to it tonight made me realize how much I miss hearing it.
People sometimes ask me how it is living so far from my family. They ask how I can go so long without traveling back to my hometown. I think a lot of this has to do with my family that I have here. I have built up a new family here. Sure they aren’t blood related, but we seem to be as much of a family as anything else. They are a central part to why I can live here the way I do. I don’t live far from my family. I see them quite often in fact, just maybe a different kind of family than you would think.