“Going Home” When You Live Abroad

Going Home When You Live Abroad | Photo by Aaron Burden
Photo by Aaron Burden

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 — referring to either my current mailing address here in the Netherlands, or my hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota — if someone were to straight up ask me what I consider home, I wouldn’t be able to answer. At least, not without an explanation.

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 (metaphorically speaking), are strewn all over the globe. Though I grew up almost exclusively in Minneapolis, there are also plenty of spots in New Zealand and Australia responsible for 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.

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

Sunset in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota
Sunset in downtown Minneapolis (~symbolism)

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
Hennepin Avenue Bridge, Minneapolis

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?

Zwolle, Overijssel, the Netherlands
A super Dutch-lookin’ shot of Zwolle, the 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.

On the water in Zwolle, the Netherlands

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.

• • •

Any photos not otherwise attributed are my own.

People talk about going home all the time -- but where is home when you've been living abroad for years, and not always in the same place? Click through to read my reflections as I prepare to visit my hometown after six years living abroad in New Zealand, Australia, and the Netherlands.

People talk about going home all the time -- but where is home when you've been living abroad for years, and not always in the same place? Click through to read my reflections as I prepare to visit my hometown after six years living abroad in New Zealand, Australia, and the Netherlands. | Photo by Aaron Burden

People talk about going home all the time -- but where is home when you've been living abroad for years, and not always in the same place? Click through to read my reflections as I prepare to visit my hometown after six years living abroad in New Zealand, Australia, and the Netherlands. | Photo by Aaron Burden

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