Home is where the heart is – and according to the famous proverb, your heart belongs to the ones you love and cherish, meaning home is where they are. What happens when that is not enough?
Imagine you have moved to a distant country and have started your own family. You live now with your partner and kids. They are your closest family. They are your heart. You love them and you cherish them. There is still something missing though…a sense of belonging, a feeling of connection is lacking.
As someone who had several experiences abroad, including living away from her home country for the last 5 years, I can relate to this feeling of non-belonging. My husband and my son are my heart, I have a good job with flexible working hours, international and local friends, a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Am I just ungrateful then? Or what is missing is deeper and bigger than myself?
Most of my clients are foreigners, they have lived most of their life away from their home country. To a point where they no longer recognize where home is. Yes, there is a place of origin and plenty of destinations along the way. Some touching their hear and soul more than others. Going back to their home country is not an option for whatever reasons, though the place where they find themselves is also not the answer.
How much of where we come from is part of who we are? Do we carry inside a map of our roots that dictates where we feel home? Even when we never go back. Or do we eventually stop calling it home while keep blending our identity through the different places we go through, hoping to find that deep sense of belonging?
There is a phase of adaptation when one moves to a different country. Followed by the initial shock caused usually by cultural differences, starts the period of integration. How long it takes – when it actually takes place – I cannot say as it depends on many factors, though I believe it does not take long to know – deep inside – if you feel that you belong or not.
Below are 5 important signs to help you acknowledge the struggles you may be going through while living and trying to integrate yourself abroad. In case you see yourself reflected in some or even all of these aspects, it may be time to listen closer to yourself and rethink your current situation.
1. See only the negatives: This is what I call continuous badmouthing. When we focus over and over again on the negative aspects of the foreign country we are living in. After a while, you cease to see the positives, until you refuse to acknowledge that they once existed. Suddenly, everything seems not to work properly, and everyone sounds to be against you. What once was perceived as rather positive is no longer pleasant and what was seen as less functional is now of no use at all. You start complaining about everything to everyone, especially in conversation with family or friends. Your home country seems to have gained a brighter light in comparison and you start wondering why you moved in the first place.
2. Non-stop comparison: Sounds weird at first glance, especially if you have moved across oceans and the two countries are completely different. What we tend to undermine is our need for stability (usually financial) and safety (psychical and emotional) wherever we are. When we have these needs attended, we start focusing more on the lifestyle we want to have or to keep. Often, we leave our home country for better conditions and have our nest-egg after some time. Usually when money is no longer a worry and safety was never an issue, you might be fantasizing with the life you can build back home. You start comparing from the little details such as the weather conditions or customer orientation mindset to the more significant ones like buying a house or paying for health insurance. Right after that, your home country becomes more attractive than it ever was through the light of your new perspective.
3. Social isolation: Moving abroad alone is always tougher. Not knowing anyone or having someone at the end of the day to talk to can be quite demoralizing. Though you can still move with your family and feel isolated. In the beginning there is likely an effort to get out and meet new people, even if it is through work events or meet-ups with colleagues after work. Perhaps finding a group of people through similar hobbies. When it gets to a point where these social gatherings do not happen at all or if you keep feeling cast aside, the willingness and openness to meet other people decreases significantly. Before you notice, you have socially isolated yourself, feeling alone and disconnected. Quite the opposite of what we crave for as human beings such as aliveness and connectedness.
4. Never blending in: We live in society. We need to lean in on each other once in a while. When living in a different country, cultural differences are inevitable. Depending on where you move to, there might be bigger or smaller contrasts, though they exist. It can be the food, the language, the clothing, the religion, the social life, among others. You may have more difficulty to accept certain aspects more than others, according to your personality and past experiences. Also, your willingness to do so, to fit in. If you never do an effort to blend in, you will never know how deep you can integrate yourself. Usually, your motivation to assimilate and accept the local costumes starts decreasing until you stop looking for new opportunities and reasons to blend in.
5. Feeling always homesick: Surely there is much to miss about your home country. After all, it is the country you have known most of your life so far, to which you have a deep connection with even if unwittingly. In other words, it is only natural to miss your country with everything that means to you. What overcomes you when you do not feel integrated in the country you are currently living in, is a persistent feeling of homesickness. Sometimes even while visiting home during holidays or for any other reason when the date of your return starts to get closer. Homesickness is more than just missing your family and friends, your favorite places, or foods. Most people develop coping strategies to deal with this deep feeling over time. However, when integration fails, homesickness may include depressive and anxious symptoms becoming painful and debilitating in its severe state.
When making the decision of moving abroad, we are usually looking out for better opportunities. A chance to grow both professionally and personally. Regardless of how this experience turns out to be, there is always learning and growth. Despite how long it lasts, give it your best, know that you have tried different avenues. At the end, if integration does not happen, no reason to blame yourself or feel you have failed, especially if you decide to move back home. Connectedness and belonging are part of what makes us humans. When the heart speaks louder, we let it take us back to our origins.