Home: A Complicated Concept for an Expat

After you’ve lived somewhere new, for even a short period of time, you find yourself struggling with what it means to be home. My current definition is a place you can be yourself.  That means my home is not grounded in any spot; it is where my husband is. When vacation season rolls around, most of us find ourselves making the journey back to our hometown/country to visit family. That is when it starts to get complicated. Sometimes we make these trips out of a sense of obligation, and sometimes we are excited to be going back home.  Either way, I’ve found that at the end of the trip there are usually mixed feelings, for everyone.

Home with my extended family in Michigan

With my maternal extended family, in Michigan, at the house her mother grew up in.

In my family, it is expected that one comes home for holidays or vacation. I’m the one that left and everyone else is still in the general vicinity of the nest. So the pressure is immense. I find myself struggling most when I first arrive at my parents home and then again the night before leaving. I arrive at my parent’s house–the same one I grew up in–and have a rush of mixed emotions. I feel safe there, and I feel a wave of joy upon entering the place where my siblings and I have so much history together. I know I only have a few minutes with these feelings and I brace myself for the prompts that are meant to encourage me to complain about my life.

Since living in Silicon Valley, people tend to lead with one of the following: “Ugh, it’s so expensive there!”  “Do you really want to raise your kids in that environment?”  “Don’t you hate not having seasons?” And my favorite, from my mother: “You know, California is slowly sinking into the ocean.”

Our family at home in San Francsico

With my husband and two kids in San Fransisco, perfectly happy despite the slow sinking of CA.

This is when it starts to happen. All of my excitement about going home and seeing the whole family starts to fade. I find myself pretending to be less happy, less successful and less settled into my current living situation. Now it gets tricky; shouldn’t they want me to be happy? Isn’t it ok that I’m living the life that I want, even if that means that I’m far from the rest of the family? Isn’t family the most important thing? What’s the definition of family? My mind is spinning with these questions and I become moody for the rest of the trip.

Towards the end of the trip, things get hairy and the tension increases. Questions about when I will be moving home start to take over the conversation, even after my having lived far from the nest for close to a decade. Comments are taken out of context and sensitivity levels are at an all-time high. Without fail, I will have a disagreement with one family member or another, and that is the feeling I leave with. And that is the feeling they are left with. I return wondering why I spent my vacation days and dollars going back to a place I left for good reason.

Whether I like it or not, every place that I’ve once called home is a part of me, and it is important to revisit those places. And the people I love are a part of those places. I’ve decided to approach this year’s vacation differently. Instead of skirting around the issues of whether or not I’m ever moving back home or whether or not I am content with my current life situation, I’m going to make the truth clear. I’m happy living where I Iive, and I will never move back to where I grew up, but I will always come back to those I love.

Do you find thoughts of home increasingly complicated? Tell us your story below!

About Jessica H

I have spent my life exploring my surroundings. I grew up in Michigan and made a career in marketing. I followed my husband to NY, NJ and now CA for his career. I have a passion for traveling and experiencing other cultures. I love being out of my comfort zone. I currently work as a contracted Marketing Product Manager at Google. I love the Bay Area. The sun, relaxed environment and access to outdoor activities is very different from the East Coast.

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3 thoughts on “Home: A Complicated Concept for an Expat

  • Elba Del Pino

    Como complemento a tu articulo te comentó que los afectos familiares hay que disfrutarlos con los niños, tanto los nietos como los abuelos tienen derecho a disfrutarse mutuamente.
    Mi experiencia personal es que re disfrutó a mis nietitos física y cariñosamente y pienso que se van haciendo grandes (el tiempo pasará para ellos y para mi) y esta etapa de afectos y contactos se pierde. Pero entiendo los procesos de movilidad ascendente en el mundo laboral.

  • Dan

    First thoughts before I reached the end: If you’re pretending not to be as happy in CA for the sake of relatives then you’re a people-pleaser, and when people try to help ‘fix’ your discontent you’ll find you have created many of your own conflicts and tensions. So stop it.

    –then I read your last part, and you are stopping it. Congrats ! Now the onus is on them to respect and accept your decision. If they keep pushing, ask them why they don’t want to accept and respect your decision. If well-meaning but pushy relatives find themselves on the defensive (as you used to be) they’ll stop asking the questions that put them there.

    Of course, in a family your size there’s bound to be an a-hole who thrives on pushing other peoples’ buttons. Good luck with that one (I recommend checking out a book on dealing with difficult people 🙂