For some expats, “home” can mean a variety of things and can seem a bit arbitrary, depending on how long an assignment abroad has been and what culture one relates to more. A trip home as an expat is a very different experience than one when you are still living domestically, primarily because not only have things changed since the last visit, but the visit itself is determined to be temporary.
Prior to embarking on an assignment, many expats are counseled on the mental and emotional toll of repatriation — the homecoming — and how to prepare for it; the need to both share and take in conversation, and to prepare for a slow adjustment. But the holiday trip for an expat often involves constant movement, and you aren’t afforded the luxury of “slow” anything. Your visit may be a week or a month, but it’s certain to have a time limit and you’ll have plenty to do, see, and take care of while there. In the midst of the holiday insanity, here are a few things to stay focused on and some suggestions to keep yourself grounded:
Of course, the visit home for an expat is primarily for family, but typically you’ll find not everyone is in one location. Your grandparents have lived in the same small town for 60 years and there’s no way they can drive to meet you, so you’ll have to find your way over there.
Oh, and your uncle wants you to drop by on your trip through since you’re already heading that way. And when you get back from that, there’s a chance your sister and brother want to take a small vacation down South – you’ll need to join them for that.
Try not to stress the travel part. Yes, it’s going to eat up a lot of your time and you’re going to feel tired, but family is important – a desperate reality we increasingly understand the older we get and the longer we’re away. Try your best to enjoy the time with people you care about, regardless of how long it took to get there versus how long you actually get to see them. This isn’t your job, it’s just about the people you came all the way back home to be with again. If the travel becomes too much, suggest that your family plan a big get together so that you can see everyone in one location.
All too often in our lives abroad, we at CAI would come across expats who were strongly disconnected from their first culture. “It just doesn’t affect me in my life here” is a phrase heard often when it comes to home culture involving politics, media, and social movements.
It’s important that you do your best in your conversations to reconnect with the current mentality, both of those close to you and with society as whole if for no other reason than to remain understanding and versatile. Living abroad is an excellent way to shatter ethnocentrism – returning home for a bit is a great way to maintain balance.
Take the time – whatever you can spare – to do the little things you imagined in your mind that you would do when you returned home. Hike that trail near your old home you’ve been missing; go to the restaurant where the food isn’t that great but you love the dessert and you have a lot of memories laughing there; drink that coffee and just sit among your parents (or siblings, or cousins, or nieces and nephews) and enjoy being where you are without worrying about work or what comes next.
Be present, and be in the present as much as you can. Things won’t be the same the next time you return, so you might as well partake in that short amount of time — the time that always seems to be just not quite enough during the holidays – while it lasts.