Ex-Pat Life Series Part 4: Longing for Home and Longing for There

This post is something that’s been percolating as I have adjusted again to life overseas. We’ve been here 15 months already if you can believe that, an amount of time that makes us seasoned ex-pats here, no longer in the newbie crowd. Not only that, but we haven’t had a home leave yet! We’re entitled to an annual home leave, but with the arrival of Mini-Mac #3 we just haven’t been able to make it happen. I’ve had the opportunity to take two brief trips to the States to attend weddings, two glorious yet exhausting respites from China. They weren’t trips home though, and unfortunately (or fortunately?) the hubs and older mini-macs had to stay in China. I’m looking forward to spending time at home this summer!

If you enjoy traveling, you may be familiar with the sense of wanderlust and restlessness that sets in from time to time, the feeling that you get when you know its time to take another trip. I think this same feeling can apply to the ex-pat life. When overseas, I miss home. I miss the familiarity of daily life, knowing how to grocery shop, knowing how to get from point A to point B and being able to drive myself there in my own car. I miss one-stop shopping and knowing how to buy movie tickets, or knowing which bottle is laundry soap and which is toilet bowl cleaner. I miss understanding the language and being just another face in the crowd rather than sticking out like a sore thumb. I miss belonging.

Yet when I’m living at home, I get restless and hungry for another adventure. I miss the uncomfortable feeling of being somewhere new, the totally foreign smells, and how the feeling of the actual air exhausts me but the smell of exotic flowers intoxicates me. I miss the sense of panic from trying to cross a street with no apparent traffic rules, or the terror of riding in a taxi as it zooms down the opposite side of the street to avoid sitting in traffic. I actually miss the manic sensation of going from the highest excitement to the lowest homesickness. I miss the possibilities.

Its the longing for home and the longing for “there” that keeps ex-pats, well me at least, moving around. When I start to feel settled and rooted, a sense of restlessness also sets in and I know its time to set foot on uncharted territory once again.

Recently, when I had the opportunity to attend a wedding in the US, I checked Facebook and saw a friend from Shanghai post about having a “Shang-low” day. And I missed Shanghai. I actually missed being in China. Of course I missed my family and the home we’ve set up, but I also missed our community here and the friends that I’ve made. I missed the sense of camaraderie we have, the sense that we’re all in this together. I felt like the crazy backpacker whose stories always began with, “Well in China they…” but I couldn’t stop myself. To be sure this experience isn’t unique to ex-pat life; you can experience this with any group you’re a part of. But there is a unique sense that no matter where you’re from or what company you work for, you are part of the same team, or dare I say it, even the same family.

And that makes me realize that this is now home, or a home, for now.

Have you experienced this? I’d love to hear about it!

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