A Stranger at Home

shutterstock © NaypongA Stranger at Home

By Rachel Richter

First published in Global Living Magazine – Issue 21 | Nov/Dec 2015

Right now I have two places I call home – Barnsley in the U.K., and Atlanta, GA in the U.S. I get so excited when I jump on a plane to head “home” for a visit to the U.K. to see family and friends, but I’m also pretty pleased when I’m getting back on the plane to come “home” to Atlanta.

Being an expat is a little bit like living a double life; I have two homes, two sets of friends, two identities split in two places. I have adjusted and adapted to my new city, I’ve made friends here, made a life here and started to call it “home.” At the same time I’ve obviously kept in touch with my life and friends back in the U.K. We’ve changed the way we communicate to incorporate the 4,000 miles between us. Instead of heading out for a lunch date, we have a FaceTime date; lots of text messages and pictures are sent, and we pretty much know everything that is going on in each other’s lives; we just find out about it in a different way.

It’s this “home” that I worry about. When I know I’m going back to the U.K. for a visit, I’m counting down the sleeps until I get on the plane. Once the day arrives, I’m so excited I can’t concentrate or sleep because in just a few hours I’ll be there and catching up with the people I love.

I’ll be going back to the all-too familiar places I grew up in that hold so many memories, visiting bars and pubs that I have always loved, and my favorite restaurants. I haven’t lived in the U.K. for nearly three years now and, when I do go back, most things are still the same and I slot back into life there, even if it is just for a couple of weeks.

But, will there come a time when I do get back on that plane, land back on British soil and feel like I don’t belong? I already feel like I’m missing out on things back home, like I’m not up-to-date with the latest news, like I’m out of touch with the people and issues that matter and, for a former journalist in the U.K., this can be a tough pill to swallow. I feel a little out of place sometimes, like when I pay in a store with my credit card because it doesn’t have a chip in it and I have to sign for purchases, or when I’m fumbling with the different light switches that used to be so familiar to me, and I get strange looks when I tell people to have a good day.

Yes, I have adapted to my new country and have favorite places to visit and eat here; you have to in order to make a life here. I love heading to a Mexican restaurant and getting my fill of queso and tacos; I love chilling out by the pool and taking to the river for a little tubing in the summer; I love the huge amount of space we have over here; and yes, I have started to use American English words like trash can, and spell words with a ‘z’ instead of an ‘s’ – something I never thought would happen, but it has!

However, the U.K. will always be my home. It’s a place filled with childhood memories, family and friends. I always want to feel like I am at home when I go there, but what if one-day things just aren’t the same?

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I worry that places will change so much that I won’t recognize them anymore. Already, new buildings have been constructed and towns and cities are changing every time I go back. I don’t expect things to freeze in time from the day I left, but will there be a point when the simple things become difficult and I don’t know which road to take, or where to eat? I worry that one day it won’t be as easy to pick up where I left off last time I was in town.

Will there come a time when I no longer refer to the U.K. as “home” and only talk about America as my home? Will I start to feel like a stranger in the U.K. despite being born and raised there?

In some ways, the U.K. already feels less like my home. My home is here in the U.S. with my husband. It’s here where I go to work each day, where we plan our future together and where we do the mundane daily tasks like grocery shopping. Of course a part of me will always call the U.K. my home. I don’t want to lose the connections I have to my roots and, if I have children, I want them to know where both their parents come from; that is something that is so important to me. But, will that become harder the more time I spend away from the U.K.?

I guess when you leave your home country you don’t really give this a second thought; you have a whole new adventure ahead of you, and becoming a stranger in your home country is the last thing on your mind.

I’ve come to the realization though that as an expat I get the best of both worlds; I’m the same person just split between two places. I have my new life in America filled with exciting experiences, cultures and adventures, where I have a great lifestyle and some fab friends, whilst going back to the U.K. revives the person I was before I left, spending time with family and friends and slipping back into life effortlessly, including the return of my Yorkshire accent!

As an expat you have to look on the bright side: you get to live that expat life where new experiences are always around the corner, you are submerged in a different culture and you learn something new every day whilst at the same time having a “home” country that will always be there waiting for us with all its familiarities and nostalgic emotions. I’ll never forget what I left behind… but I have a whole new future ahead of me and I pretty much hope it stays that way forever!

[Image © Naypong, under license from ShutterStock]

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