If you “go home” are you still an Expat?
As a Third Culture Kid, I have always struggled with the concept of home. Where is it? What defines your home? What happens when the place you’ve been living becomes more like home than home is?
If you have an accent or a skin colour that somehow marks you as an “other” in the place that you live, people will curiously ask you:
“Where are you from?”
That is not necessarily an easy to answer question. The very asking of it means that you are confronted with the fact that something has marked you as different from the local and not “home-grown”. If you live in a big expat community, or a transient City, then you are part of the collective, a part of the un-belonging belonging, and that in itself becomes an identity.
But what if, when the contracts are done, or the children are grown, or the parents are aging, you do finally decide to go home? Back to Australia, or Canada, or England, or Holland, or Thailand?
Back to the place where you’re waved through at immigration, not interrogated.
What happens then?
After years of finding common ground with fellow nationals in far flung places, suddenly you are “back”. The mothership, where it all began. You don’t have a very noticeable accent, no-one is staring at you. You ride the wave of humanity just like everyone else.
Being away changes everything. You’ve looked at yourself, and your culture and your homeland from the outside in, scrutinized it on request to find a definition of who you are that makes sense to the curious people around you.
“Where are you from?”
You’re from here, you’re home, so why does it feel so alien? Why do you feel like you’ve never been further from being home, than right smack bang in the middle of where it all began?
You’re not an Expat, are you just a Pat? An Ex-expat?
What do we call someone who goes back, only to realize that home is a concept, not a postcode?
What did Dorothy do the day after the day she woke up. How did she re-transition to farm life after stretching the edges of her survival skills against witches and flying monkeys, making new friends and exploring incredible and exotic locations?
Dorothy went back to Kansas but did she really fit right in? Or did she dream about the Emerald City? Who did she marry? How could anyone from her town ever possibly understand what she had accomplished? Who could she talk to about her adventures?
Sometimes I talk to fellow expats, and we all talk about “home” like it’s this wonderful place that we can’t wait to click our heels and get back to.
But I think the truer reality is, you can go home, but you can never truly go back.
You’ve got too many memories in your unchecked baggage.