For expats knowing where (and what) “home” is can be difficult.
For many of us, we’re not really “locals” yet, but we aren’t really part of that place we came from anymore either. We’ve moved on. It/they have moved on. And as time marches on, we become less and less sure that the place where we grew up, or spent our formative years, was ever really that place that we remember. It exists somewhere in the mists of time, in our mind. But, even as we watch it change in ways that, quite frankly, frighten and embarrass us, that “home” is still part of us, and probably always will be. And, at least for me, I’ll always remain faithful to it, on some level. I have no choice.
Shortly before we moved to Dublin, a good friend who has been an expat for many decades told me that expats aren’t really “from” any one place. They exist collectively as a nation amongst themselves – never truly belonging to any one place ever again. At the time, I understood the words coming out of his mouth. But now, 3+ years into expat life, his meaning is clear. In many ways Dublin feels more like home than the United States ever did, but America will always be “home” on a certain deep, ancestral level. It’s the place that made me, warts and all, who I am.
For expats, watching while elections take place, or we view the trajectory of “back home” without truly being able to participate, is maddening. On one hand, we can still vote, but does it really count?
As unsure as we may have been about our votes being tallied correctly when we were present and voting in the United States, voting absentee from overseas is far more disenfranchising. In the last election cycle (2012) I had to call and get the elections clerks to extract our, supposedly securely transmitted, email ballots from their junk mail folder. And that was after contacting them numerous times just to ensure that our five year-old registrations were still on the books, and then again several times to actually get absentee ballots.
No it’s not supposed to work that way, and there are guidelines in existence to prevent that. But, before I get a flurry of “you’re doing it wrong” emails, you should know that there is a huge (and I mean Grand Canyon-sized) gap between the way elections are supposed to be run in the United States, and the way they actually run. And to be fair, it’s the same elsewhere. My point is this: when you live away from the process, your sense of control and feelings of trusted participation may be negligible at best. Prepare yourself to watch life at home move on without you.
But, at least for me, when that happens, as much as I may want to cast off “that place”, I can’t do it. Not really. It is now, and always will be, a part of me – for better or worse. It made me, and if the place I once called “home” can change in those ways, I have to look critically at myself, and wonder, “Am I capable of those same changes as well?”
And that level of introspection is not something that comes easily or can/should be taken lightly.
For expats, it’s deeply affecting to watch from a distance as your original home changes. But trying to feel a new sense of “home” somewhere else is threading the smallest of needles with thread that your heart tells you will never fit. Yet you must try. Again, and again…
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
Finding the “Right” City For You