Travel Magazine

Defining Home

By Russellvjward @russellvjward
The issue of ‘home’ is a regular topic for discussion among expats, recently raised by Telegraph Expat blogger Chris Marshall’s article on the dilemma for expats in choosing to stay in their expat ‘home’ for the holidays or head ‘home’ to one’s country of origin. I also guest posted on Expatria, Baby about being unsure of where my 'home' really is.
The dictionary definition of ‘home’ is a place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household. It is also defined as the country where one was born or has settled on a long-term basis. And this last point goes right to heart of this curious expat conundrum: Where exactly is ‘home’? Is it the country of birth, is it where one has chosen to settle longer-term, or is it both? ‘Home’ is certainly one of those loaded terms we grapple with as expatriates.

Defining home

Defining home.  Image: phanlop88 /

Previously the idea of home was much more simplistic. Those from an older generation may have left home for migrant countries, such as Canada or Australia, with a one-way move in mind. My wife’s grandmother was one such person, leaving the south coast of England in the late 1950s in search of opportunity and a new life in Australia. She remains here to this day. Australia was her home the moment she boarded the ship in Southampton docks and embarked on that arduous voyage. She remembers her birthplace fondly but her home firmly remains where her family are now – her children and her grandchildren, nearly all Australian by birth. Home is the country she has spent the majority of her life in. She has just one home and it is the country where she now lives.
More recent generations of expats appear to view the notion of home differently, particularly those coined as ‘transplant young professionals’ who will make a number of international moves in their lifetimes. According to Christie Cruz, a San Francisco-based career advisor and talent management professional who grew up as a Third Culture Kid and works with global young professionals, the term ‘home’ has become more complex for expats and transplant young professionals who have moved away from their families to pursue their careers.
“Young professional expats and transplants move around every few years and have several homes,” says Christie. “Home could be the current city and country whete they moved away from their families to pursue their career. It's where they go through the ups and downs, and fun but confusing years of their 20s and 30s. It's that place where they spend time with their other family- friends and colleagues - when they can't physically visit their real families during the holidays.”
“However, home can also be where they go to when they visit their parents, siblings, grandparents, nieces and nephews,” adds Christie. “Emotionally, home can be any of those cities and countries where they grew up and a constant place that they can return to."

Defining home

One of many homes.  Image: renjith krishnan /

So does the idea of having several different homes create issues for the typical expat or global professional?
A friend of mine who lives in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and has been there for almost a decade may be a case in point. Born in the English Midlands and having spent a decent period of time in South America, she now calls Australia home. Or at least she does when she chooses.
The problem is that she suffers incredible bouts of homesickness at being away from her English home, even though she hasn’t lived there since the late 1990’s. Her Sydney life is where her husband’s business is, where their two children were born, and where they have an established and valued network of family and friends. She acknowledges that Sydney is a home to her family but she cannot give up the notion of England also being her home. She has one foot in and one foot out, and her life is an unsettled one as a result.
Some experts argue that the issue is not about where home is for an expat, but what it is. Gabriela Whitehead, a PhD student in Global Nomadism at the Aberdeen Business School, believes that expats are now questioning the concept of home and are redefining the idea of what a home is.

Defining home

What does home look like?  Image: m_bartosch /

Gabriela’s research is of ‘professional nomads’ and she is of the view that these global professionals are adopting more highly mobile lifestyles than ever before, often remaining as ‘permanent’ expatriates or professional nomads rather than returning to their homelands This is due to their increasingly 'portable’ careers and it is this changing behavior that is challenging the traditional concepts of home.
“Home has always been a complex concept, comprising physical belongings and emotional attachments to people, places and traditions,” says Gabriela. “Nowadays, ‘cultural homelessness’ has become a desirable life project whereas, traditionally, nomadic lifestyles usually had negative connotations.” She believes that global professionals are creating homes and lifestyles according to the extent to which their professional and cultural skills can be moved from country to country. The concept of home, in the opinion of academics such as Gabriela, has become as portable as the people it applies to.
As for this expat, I consider myself fortunate to have had several homes in my lifetime – in the UK, Canada, and now in Australia. Over the years, I’ve realised that I can never give up – or want to give up - the emotional and cultural attachment to the country of my birth, the land where my parents and sibling are, and where I spent a large part of my life.
However, home for me is where I feel happiest - be it where my immediate family us, where my work is, and where good friends and cherished weekend rituals co-exist. In my opinion, home is where a person feels happiest and, as with love itself, when you find the one that is right for you, you'll know where home is too.
So where is 'home' for you?  And does it keep changing?

Defining home

Love home.  Image: Sura Nualpradid /

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