“I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie-Nigerian author
There are people “naturally born” to live abroad, and then there are some who cannot even begin to imagine a life somewhere other than in their home country. Of course, a simplistic categorisation such as this one is just as superficial as any ‘black and white’ vision, because… life gets in the way.
As we all live in “today`s world”, whatever that implies, many of us choose at some point to move, some for short periods of time, others for longer or for the rest of their lives. Well, nothing wrong with taking chances – the brave ones usually do.
But what happens if while living in a different country, you get to experience, one way or the other, a loss of affiliation or sense of belonging? This can be translated into expat blues, or in simple terms; walking down the street and not hearing your native language, or going to the doctor and not quite being able to explain your symptoms with 100% accuracy, or not being able to recreate the best childhood dish miles from home, or not being able to make new acquaintances (not using the word ‘friend’ here!), or finding yourself creating a new social media account just because you are curious to see pictures from home.
You take the time and energy to learn a new language or languages, because as we all know the language barrier can be quite frustrating, though I am not sure it can really ever disappear completely. You emerge yourself in your work because somewhere in a little corner of your mind you want to prove to yourself (not a big fan of proving oneself to others) you didn’t just move for the sake of moving You start (or not) romanticizing your native country – and the list can go on infinitely.
As for Luxembourg, we know it as the country where almost 50% of the population are foreigners, and some of us admire how in such a small place 150 different nationalities can co-exist. It appears to be a blessing and an accomplishment. Although I agree it really is an accomplishment as in “success country model”, sometimes I am not sure about the blessing part. Socially speaking, it can be quite interesting to be able to meet expats from so many different cultures – including your own. In my opinion, it can also be confusing, because the relief of meeting fellow countrymen and being able to have a conversation in your own native language may soon turn into the realisation that shared nationality may not necessarily mean shared values or interests. Also, even for the Europeans, the cultural gap sometimes seems so present.
So, living abroad can sometimes get challenging. It is up to each and every one of us whether we decide to “play the lottery” and try to “mingle” or dedicate our free time to ourselves. We are social creatures just as much as we are individual ones. So communicating as in exchanging phrases in a common language definitely does not imply we suddenly feel at home. We each have our personal coping tricks: Some may find their iPhone is their new best friend, others read or pick up a new sport or other passe-temps. Some discover and explore – new cuisines, landscapes… others dedicate their energy to their kids or life partners.
I guess there are people who may only need a pot with their favourite plant to make themselves feel at home, and exchange a few phrases to get the feeling they communicate. Others may need more before they truly start to connect or integrate, and stop feeling lonely. Some of us feel like foreigners, others can fully lead an expat life without ever having second thoughts. It all starts with how much you are able (or willing) to adapt.
I don´t believe the perfect country per se exists. But what if we could try and build a new one within ourselves? No, not an island …
So I’m asking you, isn’t being at home just a state of mind?
Question raised by Sorana Popescu, July 2015