Where is home, this is a question, Will and I have had to answer so many times from friends and family. When you live and work in the Foreign Service you are in a world unlike ordinary mortals. You travel around the world as if you were going to the supermarket around the corner, it becomes mundane and routine.
You live in various countries and you move constantly, most people live their entire lives either in the same City or may move 2 or 3 times either in the same city or to another part of the country but never to another country all together. So their home is fixed to a certain degree, they are close to friends and family.
In the Foreign Service you do not have that at all, what you have is constant exotic change. Friends often assume that you will come home meaning where they are and where you were born to your family the minute you have a chance, for vacation or important life events like the birth of a child or a medical operation. How could you not, how could you stay in that foreign place, surely if there is social unrest, trouble, a military coup, a bloody revolution or a natural disaster you will be the first on the plane out, right? NO! not at all, in fact in the Foreign Service the worst things get at post where you are, it is most likely that you will stay put and monitor what is going on, it is your duty and job to do so, that is why you are in the Foreign Service, you are not a tourist, you’re a diplomat, and yes you are taking a risk, possibly life threatening one but you chose to work in the Foreign Service and this is what it means.
So recently I found on a blog by Angie Castells on Edinburgh, Scotland where she lives her post is about where is home and how living abroad changes you. I could not agree more with her.
Here is her post from her blog: Mas Edimburgo.wordpress.com
When you move away, when you turn your life into a journey filled with uncertainty, you grow up in unexpected ways.
You face new challenges, you get to know parts of you you didn’t know existed, you’re amazed at yourself and at the world. You learn, you broaden your horizons.
1. Adrenalin becomes part of your life.
From the moment you decide to move abroad, your life turns into a powerful mix of emotions – learning, improvising, dealing with the unexpected… All your senses sharpen up, and for a while the word “routine” is dismissed from your vocabulary to make space for an ever rising adrenalin thrill ride. New places, new habits, new challenges, new people. Starting anew should terrify you, but it’s unusually addictive.
2. But when you go back… everything looks the same.
That’s why, when you fly back home, it strikes you how little everything has changed. Your life’s been changing at a non-stop pace, and you’re on holidays and ready to share all those anecdotes you’ve been piling up. But, at home, life’s the same as ever. Everyone keeps struggling with their daily chores, and it suddenly strikes you: life won’t stop for you.
3. You lack the (and yet you have too many) words.
When someone asks you about your new life, you lack the right words to convey all you’re experiencing. Yet later, in the middle of a random conversation, something reminds you about ‘that time when’…, and you have to hold your tongue because you don’t want to overwhelm everyone with stories and come across as pretentious.
4. You come to understand that courage is overrated.
Lots of people will tell you how brave you are – they could never move abroad. And you know that courage makes up about 10% of life-changing decisions. The other 90% is purely about wanting to experience it. Whatever comes our way, we deal with it.
«It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.»
5. And, suddenly, you’re free.
You’ve always been free, but freedom feels different now. Now that you’ve given up every comfort and made it work thousands of miles away from home… you feel like you’re capable of anything!
6. You no longer speak one particular language.
Sometimes you unintentionally let a word from another language slip. Other times you can only think of a way of saying something… with that perfect word which, by the way, is in the wrong language. When you interact with a foreign language on a daily basis, you learn and unlearn at the same time. All the while you’re soaking up cultural references, you find yourself reading in your mother tongue so it won’t get rusty.
7. You learn to say goodbye… and to enjoy yourself.
You soon realize that now, most things and people in your life are just passing through, and you instinctively play down the importance of most situations. You perfect the right balance between bonding and letting go – a perpetual battle between nostalgia and pragmatism.
8. You have two of everything.
Two SIM cards (one of them packed with phone numbers from all over the world), two library cards, two bank accounts… And two types of currency.
9. Normal? What’s normal?
Living abroad, like traveling, makes you realise that ‘normal’ only means socially or culturally accepted. When you plunge into a different culture and a different society, your notion of normality soon falls apart. You learn there are other ways of doing things, and after a while, you too take to that habit you never thought you’d embrace. You also get to know yourself a little better, because you discover that some things you really believe in, while others are just a cultural heritage of the society you grew up in.
10. You become a tourist in your own city.
That tourist site you may not have visited in your country only adds up to the never-ending list of things to see in your new home, and you soon become quite the expert on your new city. When someone comes over for a few days and asks for some suggestions, you know what to recommend.
11. You learn how to be patient.
When you live abroad, the simplest task can become a huge challenge like finding the right word. There’s always moments of distress, but you’re soon filled with more patience than you ever knew you had in you.
12. Time is measured in tiny little moments.
It’s as if you were looking through the car window – everything moves really slowly at the back, in the distance, while in front of you life passes by at full speed. On the one hand, you receive news from home – birthdays you missed, people who left without you getting the chance to say goodbye one last time, celebrations you won’t be able to attend. On the other hand, in your new home life goes by at top speed. Time is so distorted now, that you learn how to measure it in tiny little moments, either a Skype call with your family and old friends or a pint with the new ones.
13. Nostalgia strikes when you least expect it.
A food, a song, a smell. The smallest trifle can overwhelm you. You miss those little things you never thought you’d miss.
14. But you know it’s not where, but when and how.
Although deep down, you know you don’t miss a place, but a strange and magical conjunction of the right place, the right moment and the right people. That year when you traveled, when you shared your life with special ones, when you were so happy. There’s a tiny bit of who you were scattered among all the places you’ve lived in, but sometimes going back to that place is not enough to stop missing it.
15. You change.
I’m sure you’ve heard about life-changing trips. Well, they’re not a commonplace – living abroad is a trip that will profoundly change your life and who you are. It will shake up your roots, your certainties and your fears. Living abroad changed us forever in many ways. Maybe you won’t realise it, or even believe it, before you do it. But after some time, one day you’ll see it crystal clear. You’ve evolved, you’ve lived, you’ve changed.
16. You fit your home into a suitcase.
From the moment you squeeze your life into a suitcase, whatever you thought ‘home’ was doesn’t exist anymore. Almost anything you can touch can be replaced – wherever you travel, you’ll end up stockpiling new clothes, new books, new mugs. But there will come a day when you’ll suddenly feel at home in your new city. Home is the person traveling with you, the people you leave behind, the streets where your life takes place. Home is also the random stuff in your new flat, those things you’ll get rid of in the blink of an eye when the time to leave comes. Home is all those memories, all those long-distance calls with your family and friends, a bunch of pictures. Home is where the heart is.
17. And… there’s no turning back.
Now you know what it means to give up comfort, what starting from scratch and marvelling at the world every day feels like. And it being such a huge, endless world… How could you choose not to keep discovering it?
I’m a military brat..my dad was in the Air Force and then I was married to a GI in the Air Force..we have similar feelings ..I went to 4 different schools in the first grade..two different states…went to a total of 15 different schools ….we moved about every 18 months..even after I was a civilian I found my self packing up and dragging my kids across the country..I would get restless and bam there we would go again..I have the ability from being a brat, to adapt to any situation…You can jerk me up and put me any where and I’ll be one of the crowd in a few hours..believe it or not I’m shy..really..ha..but I had to get over that or be miserable at each moving..it was either fit in or be an outcast and there was no way I’d go for that. I never connected my feelings and wanderlust until I found some places on facebook for military brats..it was like coming home..it wasn’t just me..we are all alike…some of them resented it but most of us welcomed it and was glad for the experiences..many joined the service themselves..I wanted to, but my Daddy said ‘over my dead body.’..but think it would have been my dead body..ha…so I really understand what you are going through..js
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Fascinating. I have lived all my life in the Midwest until 2005 when I moved to the Southwest, which feels ‘radical’ but hey it’s still the same country. What a different experience you have done.
You might get a kick out of this about foreign travel:
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Envious I am.
Closest experience I have had was an short exchange student program in high school where I spent six weeks living with a family in Venezuela. It is life changing yet at 17 I feel I was too young at the time to fully appreciate the experience.