Expat Story: Lessons from a Nomadic Childhood
At Expat Nest, we love to read (and share!) honest firsthand accounts of the expat experience. I believe this story will resonate with all internationals and I hope it touches your heart, as it did mine! Being born into a family of diplomats has both its pros and its cons, says expat Diana Predosanu. On the one hand is a great adventure, even a life of privilege. On the other hand, many families lack the support they need for the ongoing changes of this nomadic lifestyle. Here are some of the lessons Diana learned as a child ‘growing up between worlds’…
Lesson #1. As a child, leaving friends behind was hard, but making new friends was relatively ‘easy’
Leaving friends in my ‘home’ country to accompany my parents on their mission was never easy, but the excitement of taking a flight and moving to a new country usually outshone any doubts or fears.
I was nine years old when we moved to Brazil. I have memories of learning Portuguese at home and slowly becoming integrated at school. Unlike other diplomats’ children, I never joined the international schools, so every move, every country, came with the challenge of learning the local language and making friends with locals. Often, the only ‘different’ child in school was me. But I found the other children were open and friendly and, as I was quite resilient, I made friends easily in Brazil (and later in Colombia).
My basic approach was: learn the language, go to school, make new friends and keep in touch with friends back ‘home’ via letters.
Later I did my university studies in Australia. In this environment – where everyone is ‘new’ and part of a multicultural society – I found my place and was able to enjoy the melting pot of Sydney.
Lesson #2. Going back ‘home’ was more challenging than I ever imagined it would be
Going ‘home’ was hard, arguably harder than arriving in a new place. Leaving everything that had been built in those years and going back to a place that had changed, as a person who had changed too, was never easy. I was expected to belong, but I didn’t… not really, not anymore. The experiences abroad had filled my soul with other smells, colours, tastes. I rekindled childhood friendships, but found it hard, as a teenager, to make new friends at ‘home’.
Lesson #3. A heart in search of a home and yet ‘itchy feet’…
Growing up constantly moving from one country to another made me think that I would like to settle somewhere and build a home. But my reality has turned out to be so different! I continued to study abroad and I accepted jobs in different countries. I realise I feel the need to keep moving, to keep trying new destinations. Every place I go to, I feel that something is missing. My first reaction is to pack my bags and head somewhere else. I keep trying to find that one place that will feel like my home, a mix of the various experiences I’ve had. Time is passing and I am still looking…
Lesson #4. It’s never the same when you visit any of your adopted countries
In my experience, no matter how well we keep in touch with a place, or with people, things change. In 2012, I went back to Australia, hoping to ‘get back’ my life there and with it my friendships and habits. This turned out to be impossible. Although my friends welcomed me back, so much had changed. My friends were now adults, employed, married, with commitments… we were no longer students. I, on the other hand, was employed part-time and no longer had both my friends and my family in one place. Things had evolved and I couldn’t go back to how they had once been.
Lesson #5. Home is everywhere you’ve lived, and nowhere
(See Lesson #3!) I have called every country I have lived in ‘home’. I am proud to have adapted each time, as a chameleon blends in with its environment. But nowhere have I really belonged. In my ‘home’ country, I don’t feel quite at home – after all, I have lived abroad for more than half my life. I don’t speak the same as my local peers and I think differently to young people my age. In my adopted countries, I may have adapted, but I wasn’t born there, so I am not quite one of them either. Home really is everywhere and nowhere.
What would you add to the list? Which of these lessons resonate with your experience as an expat or global nomad? Join the conversation below!
If you like this article, subscribe to our newsletter and share this article with friend, colleague or loved one who has lived in more than one country.
14 commentsWrite a comment
I would add a quirky collection of habits, rituals and pieces in your home that stem from everywhere that feel REALLY important to you. ðŸ˜‰
Thanks for a great post, Vivian!
I love this idea! This is a simple and very practical way to acknowledge elements of our past in our present, while looking to a positive future, wherever we are. Thank you!
Wow. I’m a diplomat’s daughter and this article really touched my heart. I’m in my 20s and for a long time I couldn’t fully explain the different mixed emotions I felt in every country I lived in. I knew there were great advantages to the life I had lived- the many privileges and adventures. But I felt that not everyone experienced and could understand the challenges I had gone through from changing environments/countries/continents when I was still developing- the stress that can arise from leaving one culture and jumping into another culture. But it all made sense when you wrote that “every country you live in you call home- home is everywhere and nowhere”. “Even when you go back to your native country you don’t feel like you belong there either”. Thank you for sharing your story, I really felt connected for the first time of how similar someone’s life can be to mine.
Thanks for your comment and welcome to our Expat Nest community!So happy to have you here!
It can be very painful (and confusing) when our challenges are not validated. I’m so glad that this story resonated with you. I hope it helps to know that you are not alone, and that both the adventures and challenges of your nomadic childhood are meaningful. Thank you so much for sharing your feedback with us.
ps. What you wrote “I really felt connected for the first time of how similar someone’s life can be to mine” touched my heart; this is why Expat Nest is here for!
As a member of a diplomatic/expat family I can fully relate to Maria Diana Predosanu on all levels. While it’s exciting and enriching to experience living in cultures different than your own, it’s always a challenge going back to your old life because things have changed back ‘home’…..you’ve changed too (usually for the better) as a result of your new experiences. Exposure to foreign cultures makes one open minded and flexible. It ‘changes’ one in a positive way and change is the end result of all true learning. So go out in the world and make your home wherever your heart takes you.
Thank you for your feedback. It is so true that the nomadic life brings many positive changes and allows us to become open and flexible, among other things.
“So go out in the world and make your home wherever your heart takes you.” What a beautiful rallying cry for all of us! Thank you for the inspiring words.
Hope you are doing great – What a great article, took me a way back to what I have been feeling since quite some time!
This touches a lot what we discussed and how it actually looks like to live away from your original homeland. It is exciting, but a lot to pay. It is adventurous, but scary on the long term. I remember very much when I was last time back home passed by suburbs that I grew up, and I felt my heart crying for some reason and very sad feeling that there is nothing I can ever do to get the good memories back once more, or to touch my father’s hand when he was taking me to school in the old days.
The other thing which she called “in my home country, I don’t feel quite at home” . It is very very true, you can think of this as a wavesin the sea, each represents a country or life time frame, you ride one in each country you live at, then if you are an expat and keep moving, you are moving to a faster wilder wave. If you think ever your speed could cope again with an older wave, you are unfortunately experiencing a dream, nothing more. You accepted to move faster, so live with the fact that slowing down is not your cup of tea any more:)
Thank you so much for your comments on this important topic. I especially enjoyed your comparison of the nomadic life as riding different of waves – what a beautiful way to approach a life of regular change. I feel your pain and nostalgia on passing your “home” suburbs. Thank you for sharing this moment with us – and remember, you are not alone!
this article talked straight to my heart! Quite recently I’ve been reading Maya Angelou and she claimed “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” But what if you soothe this ache in multiple countries?
For example I am Greek, my favorite country is Morocco, I live in the Netherlands, been in France for a year and still feel so on ease when I am in the UK with my favorite friends. I believe that you can create a home simply everywhere, as long as you are willing to adapt like a chameleon (I just adored seeing this expression in the article), creating a variety of circles and memories. After all, world is our home, being a world citizen is a true blessing and can help so much in enlarging your horizons.
Thank you for sharing such a great article!
Thank you for sharing your diverse and inspiring international story! It’s true, the world IS our home and, as internationals, we get to experience that firsthand. Thanks for reminding us to enjoy the blessings of being a “world citizen”.
One of my most vivid memories of being an Expat kid was when we were on a family holiday in Egypt and I met a fellow German on the beach, who proceeded to ask me where I was from in Germany. Since we had not lived in Germany since I was a little kid, and I didn’t have “a home town”, only a place I was born that we never lived in, I didn’t know what to answer. To this day my mom still talks about how embarrassed she was when I yelled “Mom, where am I from?” across the whole beach :).
Thank you for making us smile. I know that many expat kids (and parents) can relate to this charming story!
It’s challenging and exciting at the time. Does anyone here have experience of later in life having challenges with careers and finding long term relationships?
Thank you for your comment. You raise an interesting question as these issues are certainly common in the expat community. By the way, you might find this Expat Nest blog article about the influence of our childhood on our relationships interesting. Let us know your thoughts!
All the best,