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Expat Life: Where do I belong?

woman moving boxes

by Natasha Hatheral-Shawe

I’m sitting here back in my parent’s house for the holidays and having a really lovely time,

enjoying all that the holiday season back home has to offer, freezing weather and 12 layers of

clothing included. I also however find myself doing that oh-so-common thing of having an

“Expat Crisis” and asking myself – where do I belong now?

Can you relate? Am I alone?

I’ve lived overseas for nearly 13 years now. You know it’s the usual story - came for 2, and am still

here 13 years later enjoying all Expat life has to offer and I appreciate each and every opportunity

and the quality of life we have. If it hadn’t been for taking the chance and life in Dubai, I

wouldn’t have met my husband, travelled so widely, or made friends from every country

around the world I’d never have met otherwise, and I definitely don’t think I’d have opened my

own business either. Living abroad can definitely be one of the most rewarding experiences

many of us will ever have and it’s one of the best things I ever did.

That said, expat life is not without its difficulties and with it comes a whole host of

emotions, overwhelm and feelings of being lost and not belonging at times. Coming home for

the holidays as I am finding, can be one of the most overwhelming times for just this reason

and I know each and every time it happens to me. I wrestle with it whilst I am here and for a

period after I return to Dubai, and I do feel just totally out of sorts and questioning all I know.

You grapple with the loss of the old, the unfamiliarity of the new and how you do not even know

how your “home” country works anymore. I have no idea how much the internet or even a

pint of milk costs - don’t ask me. “Home” feels unknown and with that comes every bit of

discomfort and questioning of our identity.

I love my friends and family so much, but I find myself sitting here feeling an increasing sense

that I don’t belong. I don’t get them and their lives fully and they don’t understand me. Our

worlds are so different now. I beat myself up a bit (ok, well a lot) feeling bad that I love them, but that I also have so little in common now and how can that be after we shared so much of

our lives?

My friends and associates back in Dubai just “get me” and my life is so much better. When I say this it’s important to state it’s never about either being “better” than the other or good/bad, it’s just about it being “different” and what feels “normal” now. Expat life turns everything upside down and makes us question everything.

Our sense of identity is important to our overall well-being and so this is why questioning

where we belong and life in our original versus new home can be so confusing and make us

feel totally out of kilter when we return “home”. So, with this in mind, it’s important not to just

sweep it under the carpet and to take time to sit with it, think about it and see what it’s there to

show us. Of course, it also depends on if you’re a long-term expat or away for a short time

too. But whatever your situation, here are a few learnings I’ve had along the way on how to

deal with this strange and confusing time….

You need to be prepared for the changes

As an expat you need to be prepared for change as it’s part and parcel of life. Every relative

and friend has their own life, and they will be making life decisions and changes without you –

as are you with your own life. It can be hard to see everyone changing or moving on, or even

not, as you feel it’s you that’s ever-evolving. Just know that you’re not alone and it is just how

it goes and “normal”. With this said, be careful with expectations of what to expect. Don’t

expect everyone to act the same way they used to and likewise know you’re not the same

person you used to be either.

Talk about your feelings

We’re a big believer in the importance of always talking and being open and honest with the

way you’re feeling. If you’re feeling a bit strange or out of kilter, share this with your friends

and family. Remind them it’s not about preferring one over the other, or any being good or

bad, but just that it is different and a bit disorientating for you and to bear with you. Chances

are they’ll be feeling the same way too and this may prompt them to share their feelings too –

all creating a new open and honest place to be together in.

Focus on the love

The most important thing to remember is that even if things have changed, you’ve changed

and people have too, you love them and they love you, so focus your time and energy

accordingly. Collect as many memories as you can, don’t spend your time dwelling on it and

what you’re missing or how things have changed and focus on all the good to be had. This

period is just a small % of the year, with memories, many of us will have to live on for the rest

of the year, so don’t waste it.

And on that note, I’m heading back to spending time with my family, quirks and all. Expat

and out.

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