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Binds and Bonds

Earlier this month I was over at 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle reading Shamozal’s thought-provoking post So, Where Are You From?

In a nutshell, she wrote of how we tend to miss our ‘home’, the place we look back on (usually) with rose-colored glasses and fond remembrances.

Deep down, most of us retain a hint of national pride. Sometimes it’s more than a hint. And sometimes, when we least expect it, homesickness can strike.

She wrote of realizing that we’re all in this together, celebrating where we come from while missing things we hadn’t expected, often at the most surprising times.

It got me thinking about living overseas, how we come to be living where we are, and how our feelings about our home country may be altered by our experiences.

I think that most people who choose to live abroad do so willingly and with positive intent. People leave ‘home’, or the place that has served as ‘home’ recently, for a whole host of reasons: work opportunities, job transfer, new posting, relationship, education, retirement, boredom, an adventure, wanderlust.

Whatever the reason, I believe most people come with a positive attitude, open eyes and open mind.

Oh sure, you’ll always run into those who behave as if they were dragged kicking and screaming. You can spot them a mile away. They may constantly criticize every little detail in their current country of residence. Nothing is done ‘correctly’, nothing is good enough.

They exude negativity. All they can do is repeatedly talk about what they’ve left behind, how they can’t wait to leave. They count the days until they can return ‘home’. If that isn’t possible, or is a long way off, they can continue to wallow in their unhappiness.

It’s hard to be around people when they’re like this, and harder still to get through to them. I’m not sure you always can.

Most people take a different approach. They set aside their preconceived notions and vow to do their best to explore their new culture. Some dip their toes in slowly; others dive in headfirst.

They understand that different doesn’t mean better or worse; it simply means different. It’s in exploring the differences between and among us that we learn the most about our cultures, countries, the world. And about ourselves.

I can go days, weeks, even longer without thinking about or being reminded that I am an American living elsewhere. Then I might hit a stretch where it seems my nationality pops up repeatedly.

I’m asked why Americans do this, or think that. I’m introduced to yet another stereotype: some positive, others decidedly not. I may realize that I haven’t kept up with what’s happening at ‘home’ quite as well as I’d thought.

Or I just encounter something in my daily life that takes me back to a time or place that tugs at the heartstrings. You catch the strains of a song you haven’t heard in years, or hear a name you’d forgotten and it carries you back in time.

For me, it can be as mundane as walking past my neighbor’s hydrangea bush. I’m instantly transported back to summers in Cape Cod visiting Husband’s family.

I’m sure it’s the same for others. Someone else hears their accent and suddenly knows they are ‘not from here’. Yet this is the place they call home, for now and possibly for always. Being continually reminded that you are different, that you are ‘not from here’, can lead to feeling unsettled. Adrift.

When the homesickness hits, it may be fleeting. But sometimes it can be brutal. The friend, colleague, neighbor or acquaintance is not their usual self. They can be distracted. They may have a faraway look in their eyes, or worse, a vacant stare.

They may be dealing with a host of dredged up memories, mourning a time and place that no longer exist.

When we notice the signs, it’s up to us to reach out. Check up on people. Make time for them. Be there.

It’s our humanity that binds us, and our willingness to help each other that bonds us.

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