The dictionary defines home as "the place where one lives permanently," but for expats, the word takes on a different meaning. For many expats, home is not only where they live, but also where they feel most comfortable and at ease.
There's no denying that moving abroad can be challenging. In fact, it's often said that a person should expect to go through an emotional roller coaster during their first few years abroad. But with time and experience comes an understanding of what home means for expats living abroad.
Home is the place where you feel safe and secure. When you're in an unfamiliar environment, it's natural to feel vulnerable and insecure — even when you're surrounded by people who want to help you adapt to life in their country or city. When you feel safe at home, however, those feelings fade away and are replaced by feelings of comfort and belonging.
Most expats say that home is where your heart is (or where it will be). And when they talk about "going home" after being away from their loved ones for too long or having travelled somewhere new, they're referring to returning to their family members or friends — people who make them feel like they belong and who accept them.
Nonetheless, it is also widely known that when an expat is living abroad, they might feel disconnected from their home country and lose a sense of the definition of what a home actually is.
Here are some of the ways that living abroad can affect the sense of identity of you as an expat:
You might lose touch with friends and family back home. Your social circle will change as you meet new people and make new friends in your host country. This is one of the biggest challenges for expats who aren't able to move their entire families abroad with them — they're often forced to leave loved ones behind while they're overseas.
You may develop a dual identity as both an insider and an outsider. Some expats see themselves as part of both cultures but others struggle with feeling like they belong anywhere at all because they don't really fit into either society quite right. This can lead to feelings of isolation or depression if it gets bad enough.
You may have trouble adjusting back home after returning from an extended stay abroad — especially if you've been away for so long. It's common for people who've lived abroad for a long time to feel like strangers when they return home because so much has changed since the day they left.
Moreover, for many expats, home is not just a place to live — it's also a feeling that comes with it. This may be due to the fact that many expats choose to move abroad for work opportunities and personal growth over anything else; their lives are still evolving as they seek out new experiences and learn about themselves along the way.
How to reset and evaluate your sense of home as an expat living abroad
You may spend years away from your native countries, travelling the world in search of new experiences and opportunities. But there will always be an inner voice reminding you that you belong somewhere else.
No matter how long you stay abroad or how far away you travel, this inner voice will always be there, reminding you that you are an expat. And whether you like it or not, this part of your identity will affect how you experience the world around you — and vice versa.
Keep in mind that moving to a new country can be an exciting, scary and frustrating process.
You'll be surrounded by unfamiliar customs, languages, flavours and people. But if you're lucky, you'll also find a sense of belonging that was missing in your old life.
The experience can be tricky — especially if you're used to the comforts of home. You may find yourself longing for the things you left behind: Your favourite restaurant or local bar; your favourite sports team or music festival; even your favourite spot on the couch.
It is never easy to leave home, but the experience can be especially challenging for expatriates. Even if you are excited about your new job and ready for a change in scenery, moving to another country will involve a number of adjustments.
If you are an expat who is still adjusting to life as a foreigner, here are some tips that may help make the transition easier:
Get out and explore your new home. There is no better way to learn about your new environment than to get out into it. Take walks around town, visit museums and other cultural sites, attend festivals and events, or explore the city's nightlife scene.
Get to know fellow expats. If you work with other foreigners or have relocated with family members, consider getting involved with local expat organizations so that you can meet people with similar interests and experiences. These groups often hold social events where members can meet up over drinks or dinner in order to build stronger connections with one another.
Reset your sense of home. If you're feeling homesick for your old neighbourhood back home or miss seeing familiar faces, try taking small steps toward reestablishing your sense of belonging at your new location by making changes like decorating your apartment in colours that remind you of home