The lovely Molly over at The Move to America is running a linky for January, all about The Expat Experience.
Each week has a prompt, and I’m catching up, only a few days behind now!
When my mother was with us at Christmas she asked me what I missed about home. And honestly, what I miss is people. Not stuff, just people.
When we were getting ready to move there were a lot of things (other than people!) that I thought I would miss. British television, proper tea (decaff!), Cadburys chocolate, Marks and Spencer, Quorn, my house (particularly my beautiful new kitchen…). Then there were the things that I hadn’t thought of, that I discovered were missing after we moved; proper Heinz baked beans, vegetarian gravy, decent veggie sausages, sausages and bacon (for the men in my life), strong cheddar, mint toothpaste for children…
And, although in those first few weeks surrounded by ‘new’ I did miss some of these things, the reality was that most of them were easily replaced.
I can watch good British dramas on PBS or Amazon Prime streaming. I stocked up on tea bags before I left and colleagues of my husband have helped keep me in stock, along with the boxes I bought while we were home last February! You can get Cadburys here, at a price, but actually I’ve become quite partial to M&Ms. I have my moments with Marks & Spencer; I do miss the Autograph collection and the food hall, but they ship internationally if I really want to stock up on my knickers and skinny jeans – and the lack of the food hall has meant that I cook a lot more… And, as it happens, my local supermarket stocks Quorn products, but I now prefer the Trader Joe’s (my favourite US food store) veggie stuff!
I’ve admitted defeat with baked beans, having tried every American brand, and I now buy rather expensive imported British Heinz baked beans (in my local supermarket, which has a rather hilarious British/Irish selection in their ‘world food’ section!). I stock up on veggie gravy in the UK, along with mint toothpaste for the kids. I’ve yet to find decent veggie sausages, but I can live without them. Bratwurst sausages are the closest I’ve found to British sausages, and the boys seem to like them, and we’ve found some Trader Joes bacon that also passes muster! And, Trader Joes came to the rescue with imported English and Irish cheddar (and Kerrygold butter!).
The biggest surprise was not missing my house. I expected to have a huge sentimental attachment to it – it was our forever house. But, you know what (other than missing my beautiful – did I mention it was new? – kitchen), I don’t miss the house: it’s just a house, it isn’t my home if we’re not living in it.
But, there’s nothing you can do about missing people. You can’t replace your family and friends, and however many new friends you make they don’t know you the way your old friends do. And, some days, you need the old friends.
I’ve been lucky, those days have been few. And, having three children leaves me little time to sit and feel sorry for myself. If I’m not in the mood to get out and about, or do an activity, or play a game for myself; I need to do it for them.
There have certainly been tough days. There are still moments when I feel very disconnected; no longer fully connected in the UK, but not yet fully connected here. There’s a strong sense of dislocation and distance to some some days.
I’m lucky though, I have made a few good friends here, ones I can rely on and go to when the juggling of three kids becomes impossible and I need someone to do a school drop off or pick up for me. I have a wide group of friends, that means all three of the kids have their own play dates. I have the Expat Wives Club, as I think of us (wives of colleagues of my husband!), for when I need to hear an accent or let off steam about the latest ridiculous hoop to jump through or just need understanding and the familiar.
So, in answer to my mother’s question: I miss my family and I miss my friends.
But, I have realised how unimportant most ‘stuff’ is. As long as we have a few comforting and familiar things around us; allow ourselves the luxury of those imported baked beans or digestive biscuits and accept the bad days for what they are – a bad day, not a symptom of a bad decision – and be kind to ourselves on those days; then we can focus on enjoying the adventure.
Molly has asked us to give three tips on coping with missing home:
1. Allow yourself to miss things, it’s perfectly natural, but don’t let it consume you. Remember that your friends and family are only a Skype/FaceTime/email away (make sure that sorting out those digital connections is at the top of your get organised list) – it’s not quite the same, but the world is a smaller place than we imagine.
2. Allow yourself some luxuries; yes the imported beans/biscuits/tea might be four times the price of the local brand, but a taste of home can make all the difference on one of those bad days.
3. Enjoy the adventure of finding new things to replace those you miss, you might find that you actually prefer the local version – I certainly have a few of those!