Going Home as an Expat

Visiting Home as an Expat

We love living in London, in case you couldn’t tell. We can bounce around Europe easily and cheaply, or rent a car and drive into the lush, rolling green hills and quaint, historic villages of the English countryside, a short drive from the city. There are always new restaurants opening and museum exhibits popping up all over town, ensuring no weekend passes without some sort of excitement. We have made good friends too, filling our social calendar and occasionally consuming too many adult beverage together at a local pub.  After two years, it truly feels like home.

Yet with expat life, you are never really home. When there is an expiration date on your stay (we have 3 year visas), the concept of home is distorted. For us, home is officially the US. Since we don’t live there, we don’t have one physical home, but dozens of places that feel comforting and peaceful. We have our parents, our siblings, not to mention extended families and a whole host of friends that mean the world to us. We are blessed to have great people in our lives, which brings up a unique issue for us in our expat lifestyle.

On our rare treks back to the US, who do we visit? Or more importantly, who do we not?

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Take our latest visit this past summer. The original impetus for flying back was to attend the wedding of my good friend from college in Aspen, Colorado. The plan was to fly to the US for a week, spending a weekend in Aspen for the wedding and then figure out where to go for the rest of the time. Simple.

Then, one of my other good friends from Maine informed us that her wedding was taking place in Portland, Maine two weeks after the wedding in Aspen. Okay, so two good friends, two weddings, on almost opposite sides of the country, two weeks apart. Oh boy.

Then we thought about our families. Julie’s parents live in Indiana and her four siblings (all girls!) are scattered around the country. My parents live in Florida and my two brothers live in Chicago and Minneapolis respectively. Then, Julie thought about her friend that lives on a cattle ranch near Santa Barbara who recently had a baby and whom we had not visited in years. What about our friends back in New York City? We hadn’t seen them in over a year either. The result? Our Great American Road Trip.

In total, 3 weeks, 3,800 miles, 17 states, 2 weddings and quality time with both sides of our family and a dozen or so friends. Clearly, that trip got a little out of hand. We didn’t want to leave anyone out, yet after all that, we still did.

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The reality is that while we do not live (that!) far away, we are not close enough to make visiting easy. We head back to the US only once or twice a year. The balancing act when returning home has to be a strategically scripted and choreographed dance, ensuring that I spend quality time with my parents, while not forgetting about Julie’s family while making sure to grab dinner with a close friend.

This is the main struggle for us as expats (and I get it, #firstworldproblems and all that). I do not miss living in the US. Sounds harsh, but it is the truth. I enjoy exploring the world outside of the borders of my home country, living in a foreign environment, learning a whole different way of looking at the world. I relish this opportunity we have been so fortunate to have been given. I want to enjoy the present and not focus entirely on what will happen to us next September when our UK visas expire.

There is more to see and friendships to foster.

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What I do miss is the daily lives of our friends and families back home. We can’t make it home for every cousin’s wedding. We miss out on quick family get-togethers. There are no spontaneous reunions with old roommates at a bar for a night of too much drinking. Those are the life events that we cannot be part of when we live 3,000 miles and an ocean away. When we head home, we want to catch up with everyone, something that is physically impossible, despite our best efforts.

Our next visit home is in November, to enjoy the festivities around my brother’s 40th birthday in Chicago with my family. Of course, we have a plan. We are staying with our friends from London who relocated back to Chicago this year. My whole family will be there for the party, so I will get to see my parents, brothers, nieces and nephew. Then, off to Indiana, to celebrate Thanksgiving with her side of the family, including her parents, most of the sisters and a majority of her cousins, aunts and uncles.

Some people were left out. As always. But, there is always next time.

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  • October 4, 2015

    I can totally relate to this, even though I only live across the country from my family and not on another continent. It’s so hard to include everyone on trips home, so I can’t imagine what it’s like once you cross an ocean. It certainly sounds like you made the most of your time though and had a great trip!!
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    • October 5, 2015
      Julie

      Our last home (NYC) was also flying distance from family. You’re totally right that planning family time is complex no matter how far away you live! I think we just feel it extra hard now that we’re soooooo far away! Cheers!

  • October 5, 2015

    I totally understand this! Then you have to worry about hurting other’s feelings if they feel you left them out. Even among our parents some feel that we spent more time with the other side than with them.. Really!? Like we aren’t factoring in distance, and time that we have… Oh boy! It keeps it interesting! Last time we were home we spent a whole 2 months visiting family, spending time with them before heading off to Asia. We were absolutely run ragged at the end. It’s hard for them to understand too because they all think we are just on “vacation”. Oh I could go on and on haha! Thanks for writing this! Glad to know we aren’t the only one’s who get the tug-of-war when visiting home!
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    • October 5, 2015
      Julie

      Tug-of-war is definitely the right way to describe it. It’s funny that even with 2 whole months, it’s never quite enough to relax and see everyone as much as they want to. I mean, not a terrible problem to have…I’m happy my mom wants to see me more. But she gets 4 days in November and that’s it 🙂

  • October 6, 2015

    I can relate to this! As my husband is American and I’m British, one of us is always an expat. We’ve moved around a lot now so we’re used to it. But I understand the difficulty of going back “home”- there are so many people to see and you want to do everything!It can be exhausting too. I found going back at Christmas last year was good as there were lots of get togethers anyway- but we still didn’t see everyone. But then again, all the weddings happen in the summer!
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    • October 7, 2015

      Oh man, don’t even get us started on the weddings. This summer we went home for 2 (that were 2 weeks apart) so we just road tripped in between. It was literal insanity, but at the same time, couldn’t miss the weddings either!

  • October 12, 2015

    I am currently facing this same dilemma. I have lived in India on-and-off for 10 years, and having my feet planted on opposite sides of the world is tough. I am going home for Christmas this year, because I miss Christmas in the States. I miss cold weather and boots and thick scarves, and I miss the trees and the lights and the 8-foot inflatable snowman I convinced my father we obviously had to have for our front yard. But. Going home for Christmas means that most of my friends will be travelling to their parents’ or in-laws’ places. There will still be some in town, and I already have one day trip planned to see friends about 3 hours away, but the reality is that I won’t be able to see everyone. And that sucks. I have to keep reminding myself how lucky I am that I have so many people I want to see and who want to see me. Because it can be a bummer to realize I won’t get to meet someone’s new spouse or see a baby who was born while I was away. I keep telling myself I’ll get there next time. And one of these next times, I will 🙂

    • October 13, 2015

      It is challenging. You will always miss a sibling or grandparent or college friend. We are lucky to have the chance to work/live abroad and have a totally different experience than if we had just spent our time in the US. But going back and not seeing everyone you want is frustrating. Even the little things get me sometimes, like a favorite restaurant that is closed while I’m home or is already fully booked. There are other restaurants, but I wanted to go to that restaurant. I just try to relax and realize how fortunate we are.

  • October 19, 2015

    This can be difficult no matter where you live – I lived in Seattle for 3 years while my family is all in the Midwest. It also stunk that instead of taking real vacations, I used most of my time off to come back home! It’s only gotten worse now with Social Media as you can’t sneak in and out as easily! You can only do your best!
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    • October 19, 2015

      Very true. I have always been jealous of friends that live near family and never had to use vacation time to visit. Allows for more time to have some adventures!