If you are an expat, then you will have heard this question: Where is home? A question that many expats will also often ask themselves. Especially if you have moved many times.
The typical summer of expats
It’s that time of year again. Schools are finally ringing their last bell for the summer, cheerful students are sprinting out of their classrooms and into their parents’ cars. Flights have been booked for a time back home. Your suitcases are packed, filled with presents from your host country, which will be replaced later with essentials that you bring back from your home country.
The summer of expats – often a time to reconnect with your home country, family and friends!
The first contact with your home country sometimes already starts at the overseas airport. At least for me it often does. I am at the San Francisco airport checking in for the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt/Germany. Half the people who are waiting in line are Germans. I know that since I see their German passports, hear the German language or even spot them because of their looks, clothing (Jack Wolfskin jackets are a favorite), shoes, glasses or haircuts. Most of them are tourists, reluctantly leaving behind an adventurous vacation in California.
My vacation is just about to start.
I prefer a window seat so I can look outside, and try to spot landmarks when we fly over San Francisco. Maybe I can even see my neighborhood. But we leave towards the evening and the city’s famous fog already engulfs the Bay Area. Luckily the flight is uneventful. I can even sleep a little since the seat next to me is empty.
Back home for the summer
After a long flight the plane finally descends to land in Frankfurt. For a change, it is not raining in Germany and the sky is absolutely blue, dotted with white clouds. I see a patchwork of small green and yellow fields. And the green is really green! Sprinkled with towns and their bright red roofs. Farmhouses scattered in the collage of colors.
This is where I am from! This is my home country! This is where I belong! It is so good to be a part of Germany. I feel so German! Probably so much more than the ‘real’ Germans on the plane.
As I revel in the sight and impressions of my home country, a pressing question comes to my mind. Typically this is the time when that same question arises during each of my visits back home. This question accompanies me and never leaves me during my visit. “Where is home?” “Where do I belong?”
When I am back home in the US, where I have lived for over 20 years, this question hardly ever comes up. But as soon as I set foot onto the German soil, I seem to struggle to identify my “home”.
I am wondering if my friends and family back home, who have never left their homeland or city, are better off than me, having a true sense and identity for a home?
Where is home?
Each year I am determined to find an answer.
My senses are sharpened taking in and examining every experience, every sight, smell, sound of Germany. It’s so beautiful back home here in Münster and so different to life in the US. Münster is a university town in northern Germany, where most people are solely relying on their bike as a means of transportation. Just take a look at photos of Münster and surrounding areas:
Where is home?
So what is the answer to my question? Three weeks seem a long enough time to ponder the question and come up with an answer. My answer always ends up being the same: My home is really in both places, or wherever I will be. In my new home in Oakland that I share with my best friend and husband. In Atlanta, where we left many friends behind. And in Muenster, where I spent my formative years with loving family and friends.
“Home is where the heart is”, isn’t that how the old saying goes? It’s the place where you are accepted and people share your happiness. I believe home for many expats is a feeling rather than a physical place or country.
Writer Pico Iyer, who himself has three to four “origins” contemplates on TedTalk about “Where is home”. He notes that these days 220 million people are not living in their home country. All these people would represent the 5th largest nation on earth.
Iyer remarks that travellers and expats develop “new eyes” when living abroad. And “once you have them, even your home becomes something different”.
This is so true! I am seeing people and things in my home country from a different perspective. The way I am looking at the world has changed for me forever. Having experienced life in a different country sharpens your ability to see what makes us different and what makes us all the same as a person.
Iyer continues: “Home is the place not where you were born, but where you become yourself”. That sums it up to: Every place I have been, contributes to who I am today. Remembering the lessons and morals you have learned during your youth from your parents. The friends you made, who always will be with you in your heart and who help shape your thoughts. “Home is not a piece of soil, more a piece of the soul.”
Iyer gives the advice that by stopping movement you can see where to go, what you mostly care about and you can find your home. “Home is not just the place where you sleep, but where you stand.”
I try to seek out chances to stop, to contemplate and to live in the moment during the often hectic times of visiting all friends and family on my vacation in Germany. Try to do the same!
It is never easy to leave Germany behind, especially when the weather is nice.
But Oakland, a vibrant ethnic mix, awaits me to embrace its diversity.
I have a sense of home. It’s inside of me.
One commenter on TedTalk said it beautifully: “Your roots travel with you when you change gardens”. And right now I am living in a beautiful garden!
As I look at some of the photos of my Facebook friends who went “home” for the summer, I can’t help but wonder if the same question arises for them. Are they struggling to identify a “home”? Where is home?
Where is your home?
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