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There is no place like home?

Guest blog-post by Dr. Bonnie Wims

In November of 2005, I left the United States and moved to London. I can still remember the site of my house in Massachusetts getting smaller and smaller out the back of the taxi window on that early chilly morning. Although I had been excited and motivated to move, I suddenly had a feeling of dizziness. It was as if ‘me’, or aspects of ‘me’ were still in that house, resisting the change and clinging to memories of my ‘home’. Was I bringing this sense of home with me or was the imbalance I was feeling the awareness of the separation and abandoning of a known world for another world? And although this new world seemed exciting and new, how was I to know who I was within it?

In Swann’s Way, Marcel Proust writes ‘…when I awoke in the middle of the night, not knowing where I was, I could not even be sure at first who I was’. I believe he was writing of the sense of place assisting us in being grounded in our sense of ‘self’, in addition to the memories attached to these places. Perhaps we partially create our definitions and labels of ourselves within what we feel are our ‘homes’. I have facilitated many discussion groups with expats in my work around the idea of home and belonging. We have discussed the difficulties that arise when moving to another country to live. We have puzzled over the contradictory states of mind we find ourselves in. Willingly leaving what most call ‘home’ to inhabit foreign lands challenges our ‘self’ in ways most people don’t anticipate. Losing all sense of ‘familiar’ is challenging from a logistical day-to-day navigation, but these people began talking about something deeper. They began noticing confusion about who they were in this new land. In addition to giving up a home and family, many also gave up careers or jobs, which assisted them in ‘knowing’ what to call themselves.

This makes me think about the role memory plays in our sense of self. As I think of my labels and who I would describe myself to be, often the selections are based on what I have done prior to this moment; my memory of my ‘self’. Do we believe we are leaving our ‘selves’ in the past and we resist building up or attaching to the new place we are to call ‘home’? And is this perceived missing part of our ‘self’ part of the pain that we endure as we find ourselves lonely and sometimes lost in our new homes? When working with clients I believe this is where the fascinating process begins. As we begin to understand and make explicit our own sense of what ‘belonging’ and ‘home’ is, and how we may cling to the memory of this, we can gradually begin the process of allowing for new memories into our definition of ‘home’ and ‘self’. As our definitions change, we may begin to allow for a more fluid and temporary sense of attachment to these concepts of ‘home’, and ‘self’.

There is definitely a sense of loss described by people when they try to describe what may be missing when they struggle in new environments. Homesickness is a word used at times but when asked to describe what home is I have received several different types of answers that don’t always correspond to a physical structure. ‘Home’ doesn’t always mean a brick building to individuals when they struggle to define the concept. It seemed as if it is described here as more of a sense of something that has meaning. It seems to be said in a way that generates a feeling or an emotion that makes one feel something. But what do we feel? What is happening when we think of ‘home’? Can a more flexible approach to the concept of ‘home’ lead to more open definition of a ‘self’? Within the challenge of moving to another country, quite possibly there is an opportunity to shake off these assumed roles and to incorporate additional and/or more portable senses of our ‘selves’.

Holding on to prior definitions of our ‘home’ or ‘self’ is often comforting when challenged by so much change as an expat. However, allowing for a more flexible description of who we are and where we live and call ‘home’, can help create new and interesting aspects of our ‘selves’ we weren’t even aware existed. Creating new memories and embracing difference and change can be difficult but is essential for ones adaptation to another country. Allowing for our attachment to a ‘home’ to gradually grow and change will create the new memories we need to feel ‘there is no place like home’.

Dr.Bonnie Wims
Counselling Psychologist
Website Bonnie Wims

One Comment for this Post
  • Aman
    February 22, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    I think one reason that exptas may find it hard to make local friends in Singapore is that there is an air of hostility between locals and foreigners. It could be intimidating to a foreigner. Also, the Singaporean culture is a lot different than that of the majority of the exptas here. It’s easier to find friendship among people you can relate to. I’ve been in Singapore for a year and a half and I don’t have any local friends. My friends are all exptas. Oddly enough they’re not exptas from my own country. They’re exptas from the Philippines and Indonesia. That’s not to say that Singaporeans aren’t friendly, because I know a lot of great Singaporeans. I just haven’t felt the desire to get to know them any better. Also, I just wanted to point out that the 55+ folks being likely to find love, especially in Thailand, made me laugh a bit. It plays on a stereotype of old white guys with young Asian girls.

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