For some, “home” is a house or a city, for others it is a country. Sometimes I struggle to answer the question: “Where is your home?” This question – simple for some – then becomes quite challenging. Recently, I have found myself searching for the answer to this particular question.
I just came back from a one month trip home to Germany. I have done many trips back home after living in China for a while, but this time felt different. This time it was after I had decided to move to China for good. After being married for a while, we finally moved together, found a nice apartment, made a circle of close friends and adopted a cat. But no matter how much I have adapted to my new life in China and see it as my home, it is impossible to forget what came before.
Naturally I was looking forward to go back to Germany for a visit and see my mom. After a year living in China, in a small rural city, I missed the anonymity of a German city. I missed feeling like I really belonged, without people pointing out I was a foreigner. I simply missed all the conveniences of every day life when you live in your native country.
But reality is often so much different from what we have imagined in our heads. When I returned to Germany I was shocked and confused and realised how out of touch I was with people, places and life there in general. For the first few days everything seemed strange, but still familiar. It didn’t take long and I had sunken in back into my old life, and all of a sudden my life in China felt like a dream to me.
And this happens every time I go back. It feels like I am split between places, like becoming schizophrenic. On the one side there is the “Chinese” me, who loves the busy life in a Chinese city with all its delicious street foods. But on the other side there is still the “German” me who enjoys a board game in the garden and a barbecue with her old school friends. I think many of us, who have decided to move to another country can relate to this feeling. The old you will always exist, and every time we go back to our native countries it will be revived and it feels like having a cultural identity crisis.
I know now that Germany will always be a home for me, mainly because my mother still lives there and I spent a happy childhood there, but I felt relieved at the end of the holidays to be able to go ‘home’, my second home, back to China together with my husband and my cat. Of course, there will always be things here in China which make me want to leave and return to the familiar place of my childhood and the safe embrace of my mother, but I have made my own home now. I have a family and friends here.
As Emily Nemchick wrote on Internations: In the end, we expats have to look on the bright side. We get the best of both – the enjoyment of a new culture and lifestyle, and the promise that our native countries will always be there when we go back, even for a short while. For every expat, visiting our native countries evokes some strange, nostalgic emotions, but for me, at least, visiting ‘home’ made me rethink the definition of the word. As expats, we either have no home, or two – and it’s up to us to decide which way we prefer.
I have two homes and I have to come to terms with it and start enjoying it as it is.
What about you? Did you live a double life? What is home for you?
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