Will I be a foreigner in my home country?


Dean and I have been heating up our talks about emigrating. I think now that Harley finally has a birth certificate, the main hurdle to our moving has been passed. Now it’s just a matter of getting her passport sorted, finding work in the States and moving. Obviously there’s a lot of admin that will go along with it, but it’s mainly a thing of making lists and crossing things off. I’m excited for it, and I think it will be the best thing for our family, but I am worried about just how much it will feel like home.

I’m glad we aren’t looking to move back to New York City. It has changed so much from when I grew up there, I think it would be even more of a culture shock. Instead, we are leaning towards places in California – the lifestyle seems well suited to what Dean and I like, the school districts are fantastic and the weather won’t make either of us miserable. But the culture will still be very different, and I’m wondering if I will feel even more foreign.

There’s a great article about this from the BBC. It’s all about those who have lived the expat life, only to return “home” years later and not feel quite sure about if it’s home. It hit home for me (hah!). I have spent half of my life living outside of the country of my birth, the country of my passport. Sure, I grew up American, and I have the references, accent and voting rights to prove it, but I’m wondering if I will really fit back in when I return. I do have a bit of an accent now – everyone here says I sound American but when I go back to the States people are very confused by me.

I say “zed” instead of “zee” when referring to the letter Z. I also pronounce the word as PRO-cess instead of PRAH-cess. I understand the weather in Celsius and Fahrenheit and I know all my recipes in Celsius with metric measurements. I know I can relearn some of those things, but I wonder if culturally I will be out of place. It will be nice to celebrate 4th of July and Thanksgiving without being an oddity in the country, fun to go shopping and be able to buy some of the cool American brands that I’ve missed. And I am so very excited for pumpkin pie season.

But I’m not amped about bizarre misunderstandings that will come from people wondering about me and Dean. I’m not excited for stupid questions about Africa, or being seen as pretentious because of our European university years. I’m not sure if I’ll be seen as a quirky insider or a truly foreign outsider.

From what I’ve seen and read, I will probably be happiest seeking out expat and international communities, at least in the beginning. Over time, I know I will meet a variety of people who I’ll like, who will form a new circle of friends, just like Dean and I have here. But after living in South Africa for 8 years now, and in Holland for 6 years, it just seems so strange to be returning “home” to a country I’m not sure I will recognize. I guess that’s a normal part of the expat experience, the joys of being a global citizen. Maybe I just need to treat moving to California the way I would treat it if Dean and I had picked the UK, Japan or Australia for our move. It’s a new adventure for us, a new country to learn and explore… it just so happens to be (hopefully) a bit easier for us to acclimate to thanks to our connection to it.


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