Expat Story: Holidays and home visits…finding the balance
Holidays are meant to be fun, right? And yet often they’re fraught with expectation and obligation and can leave us feeling frazzled. This is especially true for expats, who tend to plan “home visits” in key holiday periods and emerge at the end needing a holiday from the holiday!
Nelli Oswald, a German expat in the Netherlands, shares her experience of home visits as well as some inspiring ideas for finding a balance…
For almost all expats, making choices about how to spend your holiday time is stressful. When other people take time off to go on holiday, expats will often go on a “home visit”, whether that’s to their country of origin, or to a country they most recently called home, or to the country where most of their family lives.
And there’s a lot to consider before these trips:
- How often can I go “home”? (especially pressing for expats on a different continent, facing long travel times and pricey tickets)
- Is it better to go less often and have time to adjust to my new country or to go more often to maintain family bonds?
- Do I make it easier on close family members if I don’t force them into lots of short hellos and tearful goodbyes?
- How often can I (and do I want to) take the emotional stress of re-adjusting to my home country and then re-adjusting to the expat country?
In my experience…
When I do go, I often hear: “So what are your long-term plans?“ or “Do you think you will move back?”
These questions can imply that living abroad is a temporary situation and somewhat less ‘natural’ than living in the country you were born or raised in. Sometimes I feel pressured into trying to give an answer, but the truth is: I don’t know what my long-term plans are and I prefer not to constantly think about it. The moments when I do not have to ask myself which of the countries is my home, are when I can truly relax.
Sure, sometimes I do feel that this will always be my home. It feels refreshing to talk again in my own language, or even local dialect, to move around comfortably in the culture I know best. And because my time there is limited, I try to make the most of it. I try to enjoy myself, to relax and spend time with family and friends.
But I also tend to idealize my home country, as the expat country takes on the role of “everyday life”, which includes work, declaring your taxes, grocery shopping… all the things that, ironically, make you feel at home but are also tied up in routine and duty.
Finding what works for you
Over the years, I have developed my own rhythm, what works for me…
I normally feel the urge for a home visit after about three months. I avoid weekend-only trips, as the quality time is too limited to balance out the difficult moment of goodbye and the stress of travelling. Instead I prefer to go for a minimum of four days several times a year. I also try to return four times a year, to experience a bit of every season.
In dealing with goodbyes, I have learned to leave with a smile. It took me several years to achieve this, but it helps close family members to see you off on a positive note – and when they’re less upset you really do feel better. This is something you can learn, and something you can get used to (never fully, but you will improve!).
Home visits still throw me out of my expat routine, and they’re always full of emotion, but they are also essential and give me the balance I need for my life abroad. I hope you can find your rhythm for home visits too.
Expat Nest wishes you safe travels and all the best over this festive season!
P.S. If the end-of-year celebrations are a difficult time for you, read ‘Got the festive season blues?’ for some tips to support you through this period.
How do you approach home visits? We’d love to hear your great ideas!
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