“Going Home” When You Live Abroad

Going Home When You Live Abroad

When you’ve been living abroad for as long as I have, the idea of “going home” starts to become a bit fuzzy.

Though I use the word frequently — both to refer to my apartment here in Dedemsvaart, and my hometown of Minneapolis — if someone were to straight up ask me what I consider home, I wouldn’t be able to answer. At least, not in the traditional sense.

That’s because I don’t really think of home as a place. There is nowhere, physically speaking, that I “belong” more than anywhere else.

My immediate family resides in Minneapolis; my boyfriend lives in the Netherlands with me; my friends, close and distant, are strewn all over the globe. There are spots throughout New Zealand and Australia that were absolutely critical in the development of who I am today: Kaikoura was where I got my first overseas job, Queenstown was where I grew up and let go, Melbourne was where Simon and I first lived together.

You see, it’s not that I don’t have a home — it’s that I have too many.

Going Home When You Live Abroad
Sunset in downtown Minneapolis (and yes, that’s meant to be symbolic)

Taking all this into account, it follows that my upcoming trip to the US is not easy to classify.

In a way, it’s going home, because it’s returning to where I was born and spent the first 22 years of my life (except for those three semesters of university in Wisconsin, which I try not to think about). Some people spent their childhoods moving from place to place, but I had one country, one city, one house.

Additionally, this trip will be the first time Simon will visit both the United States and Minneapolis. That’s a big part of my life that he’s never seen, and introducing it to him will mean going “back to the beginning,” for me as well as for him.

Going Home When You Live Abroad
The mighty Mississippi River

But it will hardly mean returning to the same place I was before. I moved away at age 22, and a lot has changed in the nearly six years since then.

Friends have dispersed, built careers, developed new relationships, had children. My parents moved out of their house and bought a new home in a different party of the city. My sister has moved approximately nine times, and at this point, I probably keep in more regular contact with friends I’ve made in hostels than I do with my old classmates.

Perhaps most important to this discussion: I don’t consider my time abroad temporary. This is not some kind of phase. I’m not sowing my wild oats, getting anything out of my system, or putting off reality. This is my life — full stop.

Right now, you might be thinking: in that case, Emily, what about the Netherlands? That’s where you’re living this “real life,” after all. It’s what you’ve devoted a fair chunk of this blog to rambling about. Surely you consider the Netherlands your home?

Going Home When You Live Abroad
A super Dutch-lookin’ photo from Zwolle, Netherlands

Well, no, voice of my imaginary reader: I don’t.

To be honest, the most I can say about the Netherlands at this point is that I’m used to it.

That sounds kind of cold-hearted, I know, but actually, I think it’s a pretty strong indication of progress. I’m used to the money, to being a wee bit lost at most group gatherings, to people leaving their shoes on in my house. I’m even used to Dutch — which isn’t to say that I’m fluent, but rather, that it’s perfectly normal for me to hear and speak it in everyday life. I’ve even begun to differentiate between the accents. (Who woulda thought?)

So, at this point, what constitutes home?

I suppose that must be…me.

Going Home When You Live Abroad

Whether it’s a suitcase, a hostel dorm room, our first unfurnished unshared apartment — if it’s mine, if I can go there when I can’t go anywhere else, if I have an undying tie to it that helped shape me, then it’s home.

I guess it’s not really that fuzzy after all.

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