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Can you be a long term expat while still keeping your roots?

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After living almost seven years abroad, coming home is something very special.

For the yearbook of my graduation class we made a poll with a lot of silly questions like who would be the first porn star or the first one to land in jail. I won the first prize so to say on the question of who would be the first person of our cohort to become an expat (and the second one for who would start a revolution for that matter ;-). At that point I could never have imagined moving away. Maybe for a few months, yes, I had already done that, or to study, but at no stage whatsoever I expected myself to live my life away for so long as I have already done at this point.

Over the last seven years I have decided to live abroad for several reasons: love, work and studies beside the pure thrill of starting over in a new place. Fun fact: I had never been to either of the locations I decided to do my studies in before moving there with pack and kegel.

Yet, a lot has happened since I took the leap and moved away. My cousin married and had a child, my sister became a doctor and my favourite uncle, who had always been like a father to me, was diagnosed with cancer, got operated, radiated and chemo, almost recovered and died in the end afterall. I managed to take a 5am flight on a Saturday with return on Sunday night to see him the weekend before his death. So while I love my life and being away, it pains me to not being able to be there for and with my family for such events.

And while one point is to not being able to physically be there, it repeatedly happened to me that I was the last to know about many things happening as people did not want to trouble me while I was away or thought I would not be able to make it anyway. You might think that this may just be a case of bad communication skills within my family, but is it? Can I expect them to constantly keep me on top of everything that is going on or is it more of a “You snooze you lose” situation, just with snooze being interchanged with travel?

Last year I had the unexpected chance to stay back in my hometown, Munich, Germany, for almost a month for medical reasons and it felt absolutely cosy and familiar, but totally distant at the same time. One of my doctors even asked me where I was from due to my funny accent when speaking German. I could not believe what I was hearing. Was I losing my roots, my national identity? What are these things anyway? Is it something you are born with? Learned by culture and education? Can you adapt new ones or even have several at the same time?

Without even realizing it, it seems, I grew some roots here in Edinburgh and at the same time loosening the ones I had at the place where I grew up. Yet, since this above mentioned trip to the latter I cannot shake the feeling that the tables have turned. Whatever I had here is loosening and I feel myself drawn back to Germany more than ever before. Can I imagine moving back there? Maybe? Potentially? I don’t know, but it is time to decide as being torn this way inside can only backlash at you if you ignore it for too long.

Has anyone of you ever felt this way? What was your solution?

Photo Credit: Jose Roberto V Moraes via http://www.flickr.com

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22 thoughts on “Can you be a long term expat while still keeping your roots?

  1. Sydney on said:

    I am half German half American and moved to California 2 years ago to experience the other side of me, since I grew up in a small town near Munich 🙂 Reading your post you described exactly what I feel when coming back! For me it was like returning home but feeling so distant from all of it at the same time. At first, it made me sad and feel misplaced somewhere I was supposed to feel connected to but time and new experience shape us, our personality and our outlook on life. It is a hard process and it takes time getting used to and adapting to this almost new way of life. I am so grateful that I moved because it honestly made me appreciate my Bavarian heritage so much more and each time I visit back I see it through completely new eyes. Germany will always be my home and yours I bet too, but at the same time this planet is our home, with so many beautiful places to explore!
    Viel Glück weiterhin auf deinen Reisen!

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    • Hi Sydney, Thank you for getting in touch. I am very happy to hear that you could emphasize with my story. I love how you say the planet is our home, it truly is! Are you ever planning to go back? Best wishes from Edinburgh!

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  2. Hi! First, thanks for stopping by at my blog – really appreciate it!

    And (as you know) I really feel what you’re going through. It makes me home sick to think of my ageing grandfather, and not being able to just jump on a car to be next to him at any time. But it also frightens me to move back. It makes me nervous to think about settling down in Spain. I love the country to bits, but having seen so much else as well, I’m curious about what other adventures lie ahead.

    I don’t think there’s a solution for it, per se. Expats are always torn between the two (three? four?) Worlds they live in. It’s good you’re still close enough to be able to hop on a plane for a quick home fix during a short and intense weekend – this truly gives you the best of both homes 🙂

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  3. Reblogged this on votingwithmyfeet and commented:
    A German colleague living in the UK – so the opposite of my situation but of course really the same. Expats have a great deal in common, regardless of home and host nations.

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  4. How does Germany reach out to its Expats? The UK is really bad at it – we are given lots of help moving with government info but after that we are on our own and no longer allowed to vote after 15 years! 10% of the UK population are expats, some 5,5 million but only 15000 are registered to vote. Despite our strong connections to Britain the government doesn’t engage us and neglects our ptential. Many other countries, such as Ireland or Israel, make a huge deal out of their expats or diaspora and reap huge rewards in terms of political and monetary support.

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    • Hi there, thanks for the comment.
      I think considering “help” in most European countries this really depends unfortunately on where you come from as well your social and financial standing. While as EU citizens you have the same rights as locals in most European countries whereas people coming from overseas sometimes almost get treated as second class citizens. My partner was not even allowed to take advantage of NHS services except for emergencies until he finally got his settlement visa.
      While registered with the authorities in Scotland I am also still registered in my hometown (to keep my roots ;-). So other than making sure I too make my tax return there as well they don’t seem at all bothered with whatever I am doing.
      I missed some elections due to that as all the letters went to my mothers house and she did forward them to me in time. Otherwise, as far as I understand I could still be voting in Germany as well.
      As EU citizen I am also allowed to take part in this years election in the UK and I will surely do so if I am here.
      I will do some research on any support or deadlines in regards to the support situation and will keep you posted.
      What do you think will happen to us if the UK left the EU?

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      • Hi
        unfortunately I think you’ll find you are not allowed to take part in national elections in the UK. I must admit I hadn’t thought about the EU migrants living in the UK and denied the right to influence the election. There is a campaign to allow EU citizens the right to vote in national elections in their country of residence. I’m not sure how that would work out in reality – would we just move around Europe following election years? Anyway, have a look here http://www.letmevoteuk.org/letmevote-eci/
        Right now the whole misguided anti-EU movement is not designed to wreck the economy (which it will) but 100% designed to get rid of EU migrants. So sadly if there was a Brexit, EU migrants would be forced out very quickly. That would however still take several years. The EU timeline for leaving is 2 years so we are looking at 2019 by the earliest. By then you would qualify for naturalisation in the UK anyway. There’s a lot to be said for getting UK citizenship, the passport goes a long way 🙂 and of course you would then be allowed to vote. Want to to the mirror version of me? German in UK gets British passport whilst Brit in Germany gets German passport? … looks up fees… Holy Crap £1005! Leck mich doch! Sorry, becoming German is only €225.

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  5. I grew up moving around and now have lived outside of the UK for the last nine years and counting with my own family – my kids are British but have never lived there. I think it can be tough but for me the benefits far outweigh the negatives. We make annual trips home and family comes to visit us. I’m sure one day we will return ‘home’ but I have no idea when! 🙂

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  6. WanderingCarol on said:

    I lived in Asia for 7 years, but I never felt as if I were losing my Canadian identity. In fact, sometimes it was depressing because I knew that no matter how many years I lived in Asia I could never be Asian or would never really fit in. I think I had Asia envy!

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  7. This is a bit of a hazy topic for me because my feelings aren’t too strong yet whenever recalling the roots that I have in the country that I was born in — but I guess that’s mainly because I have only been doing this ‘traveling and expat’ thing for only 2 years. Nevertheless, I can imagine how it can be such a dilemma. But like anything else in life, “you lose some, you gain some”.

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  8. I’ve definitely never experienced this, though it makes a lot of sense and I can see the struggles you must have. I most definitely would miss my family; though, I know I would have serious regrets if I let that hold me back. 🙂

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  9. travelwithmrst on said:

    I lived in Greece for 4 years when I first got married, and despite being physically and emotionally close to my in-laws and extended family, I was extremely homesick for the U.S. Interestingly enough, since this was in the 80s, with no computers and no Smartphones, I actually learned more in long letters from my mother and best friend, then I do now in the era of Facebook and Skype, though I love both of the latter! Costs for phone calls back home were too expensive. We waited for a year to get a phone line, and my first three phone calls, to my mother and two best friends, totaled over a thousand dollars! (No itemized phone bills back then in Greece–just a total. Luckily now there are phone cards!) I also had two small children then, and that was a huge factor in our decision to move back to the U.S. Now, I’m currently living in the Netherlands due to my husband’s work, and what a different experience. I joined an International Women’s Club, and also have Dutch friends. I miss ‘home,’ but since I’m much older, I’m appreciating my new situation more! Great post–thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. sophierose233 on said:

    I know exactly what you mean. I came back for a short trip after two years in China and apparently I was American! I had an american accent from all of my friends being from the US. It was hard adjusting to being back home and not having to speak Chinese all the time.

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  11. I have experienced most of this. I love where I grew up but at the same time I don’t belong anymore. I can’t see myself moving back. It will always be part of me but its not been home for a long time.

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  12. I´ve lived “away” from home as an illegal (and later legal) immigrant in the US for 8 years. Going back “home” was always a different experience, but I was still a kid. Later on I lived a few years in a different city than my original one (where most of my family lives) and then 7 years in the city I was born. I think the longest I had ever been there in one stretch! Now after three years of being an expat in Asia, I still have not gone back to visit and I do also feel like I miss out on lots of things but I have a feeling I´ll be going to visit sooner rather than later. And Im sure it will be weird, but in all truth I just want to eat my dad´s cooking and see my oldest daughter who lives back “home”. Its nice to find an “expat” related post on the blog share this week. I usually tend to separate the two. Im not sure why. Thanks for a great story

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  13. I totally get this feeling, having lived away from home twice. Once for about 7 years in the UK while the second time it was for about 5 years in the Middle East. Although I went back home quite frequently, I realised that I lost a lot and gained a lot too, especially when you started making roots in new places. I’m now back in Malaysia for good but it took me quite sometime to adjust to everything due to reverse cultural shock. Sometimes I miss living an expat life, sometimes I don’t. Travelling helps a bit with the feeling, I guess.

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  14. I have absolutely felt this before. I always feel torn between France and the USA, even though I only lived in France for two years. I always joke with my best friend that I am 50% American, 30% French and 20% Italian at heart 😛 I’ve spent my life divided between these places

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    • Haha, I am 50% German and 25% Scottish&Italian each. It’s like parts of my soul are inextricably linked with each of these countries. Thanks so much for your comment.

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