Challenges of Living Abroad: No place like home / no place is home
“We are moving back home to be closer to friends and family”.
Living abroad for over 10 years, I have heard a variation of this phrase a number of times. Sometimes it was “I” instead of “we”; sometimes a specific country or town was mentioned but in every case, it always bugged me. While my friends and acquaintances seemed to be settling and consolidating their relationships, it felt like my own social circle was getting more and more fragmented through their departures.
For many people, friends, family, and home are all in the same place. However, for me — and for a number of people who are living abroad and often move between countries, this will never be.
New Home or Back Home?
It’s paradoxical but the more settled you become in your new country (through making friends, having a romantic relationship with someone from another place, buying a home) the further away you get from “back home where friends and family are.”
I imagine some of you are thinking “back home is not where I’d want to be.” Until recently, I counted myself in that group.
It was the anniversary of my mother’s death — a day which always brings up mixed feelings. One thing that always helps is speaking to someone who knew her, so we could either exchange stories about her or remember the same story together. But living abroad, without that sense of community, I didn't have that support system.
Now, for the first time I felt myself wanting to say “I want to move back home." I was longing to speak to someone who had known me long enough to have met my mother while she was still healthy. I realised that among all the people I had met in the last 10 years, including my husband, no one had. That’s what I’d been missing. For my friend George*, it was something different:
George, who is from another European country, has been living in Sweden with his family for the past 2 years (“2 years and 1 month”) and similar to me, has a seemingly large circle of good acquaintances but not a single ‘complete friend’ (as he puts it). I’d never heard it phrased like that before, but as soon as he said the words I knew what he meant, or thought I did.
A complete friend
To me, a ‘complete friend’ was an integral part of your life, playing many different roles in it, and someone with whom you could share the good and the bad. George’s ‘complete friend’ was also the best man at his wedding, a friend who now lives in a different country from him. Theirs was a friendship that’d been tested throughout the years, but whenever George faced a problem he wanted help with, his friend was always there to help him solve it. Without even having to ask.
“One time while I was building a house, my brother and I were up on the roof,” George began telling me. “Suddenly, it started raining and out of nowhere my friend turned up running towards us, offering his help. He got up on the slippery roof, risking his own life just so he could help us.” George, who now works in tech, also recalls being bullied as a teenager, and how his friend was throwing punches at the bullies to defend him. “He knew I wanted to get a serious job and that I couldn’t risk having a bruised face!”
As George talks, I realise what he was looking for might be just as difficult to find in our new country as what I am missing today. A complete friend, one who fulfills more than just the superficial requirements of having one common interest, but one who “gets” us on a deeper, a more complete level.
It makes wonder how you go about finding these types of friendships, or must you wait for them to find you?
*Not his real name