On Homesickness

I’ve been moving about overseas since I was twenty years old. I took my first steps as an expat when I studied abroad in Amsterdam, which turned into an internship in The Hague, which led to more studies at Oxford, which led to a graduate degree in London, which led to my marriage to my British husband and my joining the US diplomatic core, and which has now led to our residency in a posh (so they say) spa town in southeast England.

In the decade I flirted between America and wherever the world called me, I never really felt homesick. I made it home once or twice a year, with refrains of ‘I’ll be back for good this summer’ as I hurriedly hugged family goodbye in a rush to the airport.

And I usually was – back by the summer that is. It was the best of both worlds. An exciting adventure in a foreign locale, but ‘home’ always beckoned eventually. I’d spend a couple of weeks regrouping with my mom and stepdad, some extended time with my Aunt in DC, and lazy Saturdays at my dad’s house. I’d meet friends for drinks, telling tales of my time abroad, go to a baseball game or two with my brother, maybe rent an apartment for a year, and get another phone contract and mobile number. Eventually though, I’d get restless, or work called, and I’d be off again.

Now, though, our move (back) to England is a rather permanent one. More, ‘I’ll hopefully see you at Christmas’. And for this reason, the homesickness has hit hard. Maybe it’s also having a young child now. In any case, it’s an unfamiliar feeling and one I’m trying to navigate.

Above, I put ‘home’ in parentheses because, if I’m honest, I don’t actually have a ‘home’ in the US. I haven’t since I was 18 years old and left for university, after which my parents moved to another city and made a new home for themselves. My social network in the US is dispersed now, as is my family. My nuclear family live on opposite ends of the country, and the many members of the large extended family I grew up surrounded by have also moved elsewhere. So what is this ‘home’ I’m so sick for?

I realised recently that it’s an idea. It’s not necessarily a physical place. It’s the idea of being surrounded by my big, eccentric family, in a place where everything is familiar and ingrained and known, where I can make a difference with the power of my vote, where I still have a deep sense of loyalty, duty, and patriotism, and where I am more than a Home Office application turned statistic. I’m not saying this idea isn’t rooted in a bit of misguided idealism, but it’s there and it’s been nagging at me lately.

I wonder if this homesickness will abate in time – in fairness to myself I’ve only been here just over two years now – but I also wonder if it will be harder to shake because it’s an abstraction. It does seem that as time moves on, things here do feel more normal and ingrained. My language is catching up, I am confident driving on the wrong side of the road (har har), and holiday traditions are not as lost on me as they once were. It’s a start. And, perhaps after I get citizenship here, my homesickness will start to morph into some kind of nostalgia. Or maybe it won’t ever go away.

Either way, I will be keeping British Airways in business for the next several decades!

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