NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches
Welcome to the inagural four-way guest posting of NorthSouthEastWest! We are four expat bloggers who have joined together to rouate our monthly guest posts from the four corners of the world on each other's blogs: Linda at adventuresinexpatland.com (North), Russell at insearchofalifelessordinary.com (South), Erica at expatriababy.com (East) and Maria at iwasanexpatwife.com (West).
Sometimes we'll have a theme (July's theme today is Where We Are Right Now), some months we'll just write about whatever strikes our fancy. I hope you ejoy today's guest post on my site by Russell and that you check out my NSEW guest post over at I Was An Expat Wife. Better yet, why not check out all four?!
Russell is a British expat living on Sydney’s Northern Beaches in New South Wales, Australia. Russell spends his time travelling the world and enjoying life by the ocean. He lived in the UK until 2003, before emigrating to Canada, then most recently to Sydney, Australia (his wife’s home city).
Without further adoo, here's Russell.
I’ve spent the past few weeks considering my expat life here in Sydney – what it means to me, how much I want to be here, whether my Australian life is sustainable and, if not, why not and where to now?
I’m an expat by choice. I didn’t move here due to a job opportunity, wasn’t forced here by marriage or reckless, impossible love. It came down to a careful, measured decision. Where would my wife and I like to live our life?
Given this quite deliberate choice, I’m curious as to why I’m questioning my expat life in this beautiful land down under. Maybe it’s because I’m an eternal wanderer, destined to a life lived in different places and always looking for that next overseas fix, that next stop on this international adventure. I’ve lived in the US, Europe, Canada, and now Australia. In each place, at some point, I’ve come to ask myself the question: what next? So why should this situation be any different?
Maybe it’s because I’ve been gone a long time. Eight years in Expat Land is a fair amount of time away and maybe I just want to go home… which raises a bit of a dilemma in itself. Where exactly is home and aren’t I home already? You see, we expats are a complicated bunch. We leave home to make a new home – or, in my case, several new homes. It all becomes a bit confusing to the emotions. Is Sydney my ‘home’? Do I fly ‘home’ each year to the UK? Where is my next ‘home’?
I was fortunate enough to take two overseas vacations in the first half of this year to two of my former homes. What better way to understand these confused emotions than to visit these places in the flesh and attempt to figure out where home is to me.
Landing in Canada was an interesting experience. As the plane circled over Vancouver, a previous home of ours for nearly two years, I was hit by the ‘wow’ factor. That moment when you see the mountains, the ocean, the city skyline, the wilds of British Columbia visible on the horizon. It felt exciting and exhilarating to be back. On a deeper level, something stirred within. A pining, a longing for this town. We had left in a dizzy spin six years before, hurriedly following a job to the east, and having never really said goodbye – and never really having wanted to. As we explored our favourite city, we were full of adventure, not unlike expat newbies, wide eyed and in wonder of this interesting, new environment. Yet I also had a sense of this now being someone else’s adventure. We’d had our chance here but had chosen to move on. This was now somebody else’s dream, wasn’t it?
Arriving in England a few months later and emotions were running high. I’d returned to the place of my birth and a country in which I’d lived for more than 26 years. I’d been absent for almost three years and, upon returning, was immediately struck by how disconnected I felt. Reacquainting myself with the towns, villages and hamlets, the wonderful architecture and history, the vibrancy and size of cities like London contrasted with the sleepy backwaters of the south of England and their ever-present sense of community, I still couldn’t completely connect with my homeland. I pictured myself moving back with family in tow but struggled to visualise a town or area that could match the picture postcard beauty of Sydney or the outdoorsy spirit and vibe of Vancouver. I had opened a Pandora’s box of experiences and interests since leaving the UK in 2003 and I wondered if it was too late - and, I, too reluctant - to close it back up.
A few weeks after returning to Sydney and settling back in, once the emotions had hardened and the reality of day-to-day living had kicked in, I took stock of the life we had created here on the Northern Beaches and wondered whether I’d been premature to consider leaving and too eager to disregard this part of the world as my long-term home. I enjoy the life we’ve created for ourselves, from the simple weekend walks along the ocean front to the casual mid-week dining on the deck outside our little house, listening to those cheeky lorikeets whilst watching the early winter sun go down. But life here has had its problems and I wouldn’t be questioning our Sydney life if this weren’t so.
My trips to the northern hemisphere were quite revealing. Whilst I’d always thought of my homeland as my ‘home’, it seemed to no longer be the case. Vancouver was a previous home that excited and inspired me but may realistically never be home again – it’s much more likely someone else’s home now. And where I currently live may be our home for the time being until we opt to pick up and start over someplace else, like all good expats!
Although I’m examining our next steps and re-assessing our future expat life, what I realised from my travels is that home is, for better or worse, wherever my family are. It’s where my work is, and where good friends and cherished weekend rituals co-exist. Home is where I’ve put down roots, however short or few they may be. Home will always be where my heart is but it will also be where my family and I live, wherever that is or wherever that may come to be.