Expats Dilemma: Where is Home?

Home is not just a place, it’s a feeling.

CJ Stander saying farewell to ‘family’

In the aftermath of Ireland’s win over England CJ Stander remained on the field talking to his family on video. His 51st and final cap signalled the end of his Ireland career and a major chapter in his life. It is a moment to which many of us can relate.

His interview shortly afterwards was heartfelt and genuine. He expressed deep gratitude for being made to feel so welcome by both team and country. But after months in a bubble away from family, he was looking forward to going home.

“I’m forever grateful. I worked hard to be in this jersey. The boys made it easy to be in it. I wanted to give everything for that jersey because I feel everything I needed was given to me. I just wish my family could be here. I’m looking forward to spending time with family.”

It must be nice to be made welcome in a place foreign to you and, on the other hand, unpleasant to feel unwelcome by a country you think of as home.

As ex-pats, a natural question we often ask ourselves is ‘Where is Home’?

CJ got me thinking about that this week. 

I’d finished a talk on motivation and wellbeing, during which we discussed our challenges and fundamental needs. We used Maslow’s hierarchy (below) and considered the value of having perspective.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

My son (JJ) is sick in hospital at the moment. He cannot walk due to pain in his legs, and the doctors are trying to figure it out. So Anne-Marie is with him as he gets the necessary tests. My mind naturally wanders to worst-case scenarios, and the accompanying feelings of worry and anxiety come and go.

I take a stroll with my two daughters along a beautiful beach, warm in my layers and enjoying nature, and again my wandering mind wavers towards worry.

I come across a man in a tent – no home, little security, less safety. And I thank my lucky stars for all that I have.

What we need to survive is simple – air, food, water, sleep, warmth.

What we need to feel secure are our health and safety.

What we need to thrive are relationships and friends.

If this period reminds us of anything, it is that few of our needs from Maslov’s hierarchy are met by the stuff we buy. What we need is right in front of us. Our health and our family are all we need. When they become threatened, we gain perspective. We are reminded. 

Now will we remain re-minded or will we forget? Remembering is up to us. But moving from that moment of insight to embodying or living that moment-of-truth is the hard part. It involves ‘unlearning’ what we practise daily and have been consumed and submerged by within our environment over the years.

So what does Maslov have to do with the idea of home? Well, while Anne-Marie is away with JJ, there is a gap. A pair-shaped hole in the room. When they return, it is filled. 

We have what we need. We can be grateful.

Because home is not a geographical location. In Sydney, we ditched houses eight times but always felt at home. Home is a feeling naturally associated with the physical environment. But what is it about that particular place that represents what home for us? 

It is the feeling of safety, warmth, security, love (and hugs) and connection. It is the feeling we can be ourselves because we are with people who love us unconditionally. 

Home is not somewhere we must put on a show – though we can and often do. We don’t feel a need to act in a certain way because our little gang loves us, not despite our oddities, but because of them. 

So home can come with us, wherever we decide to land. I believe we could live anywhere if we brought the right stuff – which is mostly just us.

When we moved, we downsized, stripped our life back as much – as you can with children. I spent a day at a rented table in a local market selling everything I could. It was Sydney summer hot. By the end, I was almost giving stuff away (only my upbringing prevented it). It was clear that a lot of what we owned had little value to us. We named our car – Bertha – now you ask, as she became a personality on our road trips. She became part of our story, bringing us on many adventures. She proved a robust explorer and worthy pioneer. She had a history with us and therefore a value. She survived the cull and returned to Dublin in her private compartment of a 40ft container. She then hauled us and our caravan on our two-month trip to Europe within a couple of years of returning. I hope she continues to enjoy her new life in Africa. Three continents in 15 years is a good score.

We find our home where we feel loved. And I hope you find your home where you feel loved – wherever that is.

Moving does not always provide the answers. There are pros and cons. 

If you cannot be happy in one place, can you guarantee you will be happy in another?

But I know this. The more happiness comes from inside, from the energy that attracts your people to you, the more resilient you will be. And the happier you will be regardless of your geographical tribe. What you seek is your energy tribe – the people who get you and love you. When you find them, hold on tight. Draw a circle. Inside, write their names, the ones with whom you can be unapologetically you – without embarrassment. These are your inner circle. The first person on that list should be yourself. Nurture that inner circle. Love them.

Be willing to ask for help. Any day you struggle, someone in your circle will gladly help. Offer them the opportunity to expand their happiness by helping you.

And when you think about home, consider the feeling, not just the place.

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