Finding a home in your new destination.
During my first years abroad, I squarely knew where “my home” was.
It was a small city in the countryside of São Paulo state, in my native Brazil.
I missed my family and friends, the peculiar musty smell of my tropical city.
Oh, and how I missed the food!
Having grown up eating rice and beans, freshly picked fruits and vegetables, and some sort of protein in most meals, I was finding it strange to eat sticky rice and soybean soup every day in my new country, Japan.
But time passed… and I got to live in a few more places, and enjoy other interesting types of food around the world.
Very exciting and confusing!
When my family and I lived in San Diego, California, I remember wishing that I could replace the country of Mexico for Brazil.
Wouldn’t it be so convenient to be able to cross the border and be at my other home country?
At that time, I had just passed my American citizenship exam, and the United States was becoming very dear to me, and having my TWO countries as neighbors would be ideal.
After a few more years and relocations around the globe, from time to time, half jokily, I still ask my husband if we can go home. To what he always replies – Where to?
“Home is where the heart is.” Anonymous
But, what happens if your heart is divided between a few locations???
PROBLEM or OPPORTUNITY?
The truth is that I am convinced that after we live abroad we can’t just clean the slate and go back to our old selves.
We are changed by our experiences and incorporate these new lives to the person we havebecome.
I have been reading and listening to many expatriates’ stories. They share this surreal feeling of being from many places at once. Some still longing for situations and locations that may no longer exist in the real world.
Pico Iyer, a British-born writer of Indian origin, based in Japan since 1992, brilliantly spoke about this topic of “Where is home?” at one of his well know TED Talks. As a lifelong world traveler, former Harvard professor, Mr. Iyer has written extensively and beautifully on world affairs and the global nomad lifestyle.
SO, ARE THERE SOLUTIONS?
I’m certain that we all wish for a quick and effective solution.
However, many of us will be forced to agree that expat living can equate to first love.
After we are hit by it, everything transforms.
We can try to go back to our old lives, but there is no band-aid fix for it. We are changed forever.
Are You in for the Ride? A few Tips on how to find HOME at you new Destination.
- FOCUS ON THE REASONs why YOU BECAME AN EXPAT in THE FIRST PLACE – Some of us chose to live abroad because we wanted better financial compensation, educational opportunities and security. Others, for the sheer adventure of international living. Whatever your reasons were, I hope you have a list of them. A real list to be referred to, and revise from time to time. This simple action will serve you over and over.
- KEEP IN TOUCH WITH THOSE BACK HOME. Studies have shown that talking to friends and those we love promotes better health and lower stress levels. Go ahead and call that old friend of yours. It will brighten her day and yours too!
- EXPECT, ENJOY AND GROW FROM NOSTALGIA. Many people think that being nostalgic is negative. I personally prefer what social psychologist, Clay Routledge, from North Dakota State University says “When you’re nostalgic about something, there’s a little bit of a sense of loss—[the moment has] happened, it’s gone—but usually the net result is happiness.” It is totally understandable to miss where we come from. After all, our past led us to the person we are today. By allowing nostalgic moments to happen though, we work our own present emotions and create a jumping platform to a better future.
- COOK OR GO OUT TO EAT THAT SPECIAL FOOD. It’s not hard to believe that food and emotions go together. Hippocrates once said: “Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food.” Here we’ll use food to “cure” homesickness. By inviting a few new friends to savor some of your home country dishes, you will socialize and kill your homesickness in one event.
- BRING SOME OF YOUR OLD HOME WITH YOU.
Adorning your new surroundings with family pictures, artwork, and other personal items can transform your accommodations in your own haven. A place to retrieve to after a day spent in a foreign world. Someone told me that his family brought along paintings to hang on the walls of their new homes as they moved around the country. This family brought the paintings along in their suitcases, to immediately create a homey ambiance. I personally prefer native figurines.
- LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, ALWAYS. Nothing helps you overcome a challenge more than your own attitude. Life tends to become pleasurable when we are feeling positive. Assume that the people and situations you come across daily will bring good results for you and all involved.
I’m very excited that you’ve read this post and hope that you have gained something from it. By facing each day and challenge with the right attitude, discovering new ways to go around obstacles, you will adapt to ANY new home, and as many new locations, this journey may take you.
Ah, how about my love for Brazilian food? Like me, it transformed. These days, my family and I enjoy many different types of food and even created a new tradition – the ramen pilgrimage – more in future posts.
Please leave your comments below and share some of your own ideas on how we can improve our expat experience.