By Marianne Lagutaine MA, AThR
The question of home has been coming up recently in different contexts. For instance, it has been asked by the teenagers I support, some of whom have parents from different countries. Again, it came up in conversation with some expat women I work with, mothers who have left their hometowns to accompany their families to HK on international assignments.
“Home” is defined as a place of permanent residency, yet it is much more than a house, or physical space, and the concept of home has unique and rich emotional meaning. Each individual has a slightly different idea of it, and the idea is often related to childhood memories, often in fleeting images, melodies, smells and tastes. As an art therapist, I have often asked people to draw their home and have been astounded at the variety of images that come up, different for each individual.
With the holidays around the corner, the question of home is ever more present – family, home and holidays are intrinsically linked. Be it a Thanksgiving dinner or a Christmas brunch, images of people sharing food, gathering in comfort (or sometimes conflict), come to mind.
Transitions, moving and adjusting to change are part of expat living and can make people long for what they have lost, a sense of stability and permanence. As Tom Waits (San Diego Serenade, 1974) sang: “…I never saw my hometown until I stayed away too long…”
How then, living abroad, do we create a home, that gives us a sense of security, in order to go out and meet our daily challenges? The answer to this question is probably as unique as every family and living situation. Here are some things that may help with the sense of being uprooted.
Rituals can help anchor you and give a sense of personal and family identity.
Connection is also helpful, finding like-minded individuals who can be part of your support system and promote a sense of belonging and create a feeling of being home. You could connect through a hobby, reach out through your school, meetups or support groups.
Decorating the house so that it welcomes you with warm colors and family photos can help you feel more at home.
Ask someone to dinner. While it might be necessary to reinvent old dishes using unfamiliar ingredients, in the end, these dishes are uniquely yours and may become part of your new family tradition.
The challenge for expatriates is twofold, to create a home away from home, and to still feel at home when visiting your home country. If you find yourself challenged and unconnected after your move, and friends and family are not able to help, you might want to reach out to a therapist for support during your time as an expat.