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Is Home Where The Heart Is?

The old saying “Home is where the heart is” can be a tricky one for expats. When you’ve lived almost as long in your host country as you did in your home country, you begin to wonder just where “home” really is. What used to be familiar on your visits home, now makes you feel slightly out of place and apprehensive. Things like (still) not having a chip and pin in my credit card for example, only serve to remind me how long I’ve been away and how “different” I now am from your average Brit.

Watching the TV or reading a gossip mag and not having a clue who Tulisa and Jodie Marsh are further mark the fact that the UK has moved on without me. Having not lived in London since 1990, not only do I have to refer to the Tube map to get from one end of town to the other, there are stations and entire lines on the map that weren’t even there when I left!Almost makes me feel like Dorothy – “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more”!

Serial expats who spend equal amounts of time in two and more countries often feel like they don’t really have a “home”; others seem to pick their favo(u)rite country and call it “home”. Or as Expat Apple says in her Telegraph column – “Although educated in Australia and with an Australian mother, that side of my lineage is sometimes questioned. I speak with an English accent littered with words and phrases from the twelve countries in which I have lived. I am a hybrid but feel closely attuned to England, Australia and America.” The comments on this blog also reflect the confusion many expats feel as to where “home” actually is, and it’s different for everyone. Some feel “home” is the country you were born in, others feel it’s the place your family is based, and still others simply believe it’s where you feel most comfortable. And then there’s the question – “Does it really matter?”

When you have children, this whole issue develops another layer. I often say that my kids are very comfortable in the UK, but they were all born in the States and that’s definitely their “home” in all senses of the word. I have always thought I’d end up living back in the UK at some point, but I’m now facing the reality that if I did, I’d be leaving at least one of my children in the US. Granted, they’d be adults, but they’re my very own family, and of course, they could very well end up having children of their own. That would put me on one side of the Atlantic and a growing number of my family members of the other; not gonna fly (if you’ll excuse the pun.)

In many multi-cultural families, the children may attend school or college in a different country, which is what one of mine is contemplating at the moment. While I’m thrilled that he’s open to the idea, and feels comfortable enough in that country to consider it, the thoughts are already building up in my head. “If something happens, how quickly can I get to him?” or “Which family members will he be near?” I have even joked that him attending a British university would be the perfect excuse to go and live there for a while ….. at a safe distance, of course! Then came the realization that following one child to his college country would leave another on her own at college in the States. Makes me wonder how global nomad families cope when several children attend colleges in far-flung places.

Air miles, I suppose!

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Toni Summers Hargis has a new book – “The Stress-Free Guide to Studying In the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students”. (Summertime). She is also the author of “Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom” (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.

Read Toni's other Expat Focus articles here.

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