Where is home?

A tricky question

Along with “where do you come from?” and “what do you do?”, the “where is home?” question is always a tricky one to answer when you’re an expat or third culture kid.

It seems especially difficult to answer for children; those third culture kids, who try to fit in everywhere.

Is ‘home’ a location or a concept?

To me, home is where I live right now. It’s a concept. I don’t feel I have a ‘home town’ in the UK – not where I grew up, not where my mother is (she moved back to her home town on retirement) and certainly not where my actual house is in the UK. The nearest to ‘home’ as a location for me is London, where I immediately breathe out and feel comfortable. Mind you, I also feel ‘at home’ in the Amazon jungle and by the sea… so for me, home is definitely a concept!

My husband often refers to ‘home’ as the UK, perhaps because he works with a lot of British people. But then he also refers to this house as ‘home’.

For children who move around a lot, this is a much more poignant abstract. Stability is extremely important to a child. I believe that as long as the home environment can be as welcoming, calming and familiar as possible, your child can cope. Create a little comforting haven for your child and they will settle much more easily.

Our daughter, as she’s got older, seems to require more reassurance on the “where is home?” question. She’s lived in three houses in six years; not that many compared to lots of other kids, but she has a very long and questioning memory.

Our house in the UK is being rented out while we live overseas, so she can’t visit there. And our previous home in Tokyo was demolished after the earthquake, which made her very sad. We had lived there for half her life.

I am very lucky to have another house in the UK where we visit every year. It occurred to me last summer that this is the only constant my daughter has had on the ‘home’ stakes in her entire life. She adores the place and often refers to it as HER home – she intends to live there when she leaves us! I realise not everyone is as fortunate as me (although I would rather still have my father alive, as I inherited the house from him on his death), but I believe this little house has helped my daughter retain her ties to her home country. This is important for us as we will return to the UK at some point.

In a strange twist of logic, we all feel some homesickness – but not for the UK: our homesickness is for Japan. We miss it intensely and this hasn’t lessened over the eighteen months since we  left.

But then, perhaps homesickness has no bearing on logic at all.

I think this quote says it all for me:

“Where we love is home,
Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Homesick in Heaven


Where do YOU call ‘home’? And do you suffer from homesickness? How does it manifest itself and do you deal with it?



Expatability Chat Podcast

If you’d prefer to listen to me talk about this topic, here is my podcast episode about How to cope with feeling homesick as an expat

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  1. Pingback: Resources I wish I’d known about before moving abroad | Smart Relocation Guide
  2. My husband was born in India, the third generation of his family to live there. I was born of an Australian mother and adopted into an English family and became a nomad in adult life. My husband and I spent many years as expats, both before and after having children. The children lived in Holland, HK & Singapore. Just getting the last child off to uni this September and the husband is in Saudi, where I will be joining him (there or or in Dubai). We will retire to UK, but still not sure it’s home. TCK’s, every one of us!

  3. Hi Maria,
    Thank you for commenting. I’m sorry you found your repatriating experience painful, but pleased you put a positive spin on it!
    Japan truly is wonderful, isn’t it?!

  4. Your post reminded me of the confusion I had felt at times.

    When we left Japan (I loved our time there!), I still thought of the little village I’d come from in northern Bavaria as my hometown. It took me one year in the Frankfurt area to realize my hometown was no longer my home.
    Going back there, I had become a stranger, with a strange lifestyle (expats), often needed to explain myself (expats) and it only took one year to realize my current home was here – where I did not need to explain why my kids went to an international school and so many other things.

    It was a somewhat painful experience, but also liberating at the same time.

  5. Well I have been in the USA for twelve years now (orginially from the UK). Initially we did not know if we were staying here so for a few years we had one toe in the UK and one in the US and I felt a bit homesick. But unless the homesickness is killing you eventually you adapt to the new culture (providing it has some positive aspects!) But like you say (my kids haven’t been to the UK much) now I am feeling I want to show them more of the UK so they can find more about my ‘culture’ although frankly I don’t think they’ll give a fig about it apart from going on the red double decker buses and the London eye.

    1. Hi Emma, thank you for your comments. I think it would be fun for both you and your children to ‘do’ the UK as a holiday; be proper tourists! You’d get as much fun out of showing them the sights as well as imparting a little of your inate Britishness.

    1. Thank you so much for posting that very poignant link. Unfortunately I’m not ‘allowed’ to watch it in this country 🙁 but the transcript and comments are beautiful.
      Made more so by my own Welsh birthplace and ancestry!

  6. We are Americans but my kids have never lived in the US, and we haven’t even been there in more than 4 years so for them it’s definitely not home. I grew up in Indiana, but left when I got married 20 years ago. I still have family there and love to visit when I can, but I don’t consider it to be home. When we moved to Scotland 2 years ago (after taking vacations in Scotland for 8 years) I felt like I’d finally found home. We had to move to Indonesia just 7 months after that, and for the entire 15 months there I pined for Scotland horribly. Scotland and Indonesia are about as opposite as places can be, so I resented everything about Indonesia because it wasn’t Scotland. When we moved back to Scotland in June of this year I was overjoyed! To me this is home. But for months, my son cried that he wanted to go back “home” to Indonesia. He’s 6 and did his first year of school there, so that’s where he really clicked and felt at home, which is ironic to me because that felt as far from home as possible to me. Now that we have our house here, it will always be home to me even if we have to move back overseas again. But even with our house, we are still foreigners here so even though it feels like home to me, I’m still aware of being foreign.

    1. Hello Laurie, Thank you for visiting and commenting.
      It’s strange how places feel like home, even if they aren’t your ‘home country’. I also fully believe that the early years of schooling implants a sense of ‘home’ into a child, which is why your son is calling Indonesia ‘home’.

      My daughter knows she is British and we visit there regularly, but both she and I miss Tokyo very much indeed. The place instantly felt ‘right’ for me, and obviously for her too. Interestingly, I’ve just been out with a friend who I knew in Tokyo; we both now live in Berlin. Her child always considered himself German (his father’s nationality)… until he got here, and now he doesn’t feel he fits in at all. I think this will be a common theme with Third Culture Kids.

      Please follow the series of three posts I’m running this week by Cecilia, there are some very interesting and insightful points in there regarding the nomadic upbringing. http://expatchild.com/unsettled-very-happy-third-culture-kid-part-1/#.UKEGe4YyF8E

  7. We moved overseas when my son was 9 and he returned home to university at age 18. During that time we kept our house in Toronto and although it was rented out, I know it was an important touchstone for my son to know that he had a “home” he could envisage coming back to. However I think it varies very much from child to child, depending on their age when they leave (or where they’re born) and degree of mobility, which is why it’s so important to make a “home” no matter where you’re living or for how long. Ruth Van Reken (co-author of the famous TCK book) received excellent advice on that from her father “unpack your bags and plant your trees.”

    1. Lovely to hear from you, Judy, thank you for visiting.

      Interesting to hear your son had a similar tie to the house in Toronto as my daughter has to the little house in the UK.

      I adore that quote from Ruth – “unpack your bags and plant your trees”, it is very good advice indeed. I have to admit one of the first things I buy in a new home is some sort of indoor plant; so a kind of a tree!

  8. A very tricky question. I have felt homesick for a country that isn’t my birth country – when I was a child and we moved back to NZ I felt homesick for Fiji, and even thirty years later when I returned to Fiji it still felt like home. I feel terribly homesick for a way of living and in the case of New Zealand, for the actual land itself. I know rationally that NZ has a lot of rain, that the weather can be frustrating, that it is a long way from the destinations I want to travel to. I know that NZ is ‘behind the times’ but that doesn’t make me less homesick for it. I often wonder if the lifestyle we are currently living in the UK was more like the lifestyle I forged for myself and the kids back in Auckland, whether I would have settled better here. Interesting post. Vix

    1. Hmm, you’ve got me thinking now (not good this early in the morning!).
      I wonder if we get homesick for a way of life, rather than a particular country?

      My life in Japan was far better than it is here, in many ways; although Berlin is more ‘familiar’, being that it’s in Europe.

      So perhaps it’s ‘lifestyle’ rather than ‘homestyle’.

  9. Home for me is definately where my family are and at the moment we’re in France and have been for 8 years. I had prepared myself for feeling homesick for the UK, but never have. I’ve often wondered why and I think it’s because we had such a tough time getting here, I was relieved and thankful when we’d finally made it. We have 5 children (the 2 youngest were born in France) and have a very strong family unit and to be honest we’ve been so busy since we moved here I haen’t had time to feel homesick.
    I asked my children the other day where they think of as home and they all agreed that France is their home, however when I asked do they feel more French or English they all feel English – even the 2 youngest (now 5 and 7) who were born in France. They don’t have a problem with that, I think they’re proud to be different. I think it’s important for the children to identify with and feel conected to their nationality. We speak English at home and have British TV and I think this helps to keep their Britishness even though we rarely visit the UK.

    1. I do believe the expectation colours our perception of a country. And you looked forward to your move for so long that – as you say – your were relieved & thankful to get there. And yes, keeping busy always helps!

      Interesting that your kids feel English. My daughter only just last night mentioned she’d finally met another (albeit half-) British girl at school, and that this made her very happy. It’s been a long time since she last mixed with Brits of her own age.

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