What you miss the most… and what this tells you - Expat Nest e-counselling

Grief/Loss, Home/Relocation


What you miss the most… and what this tells you

After joining her partner in his home country, Renata Harper found herself experiencing a new kind of missing that surprised her – one that has since led to profound change in her life. Now back in her home country of South Africa, she gives thanks for the opportunity she had “to miss”… and suggests that what we miss most can offer great insights into who we are and what we need.


All of us know the feeling of missing: a best friend who moves to another country; a favourite book or memento forever lost during a relocation; a former love who has moved on; a beloved person or animal companion who has passed away.   

For expats, missing is a particularly familiar experience. Sometimes we carry it lightly, other times it keeps us weighted down to the ground.

Missing comes in a range of sensations, much like the seasons…

There is the deep nostalgia, which leads us to pause and tends to pass in its own time.

There is the cold and brittle ache, which inner work and the love of those around us can help to soften.

There is the gentle tug at the heartstrings, which can be cured by a moment of play or a phone call to a close friend.

And there is the wild and throaty call – or calling – that must be answered. 

What I missed during my two years in the Netherlands was of the latter kind – and it took me by surprise. During work breaks, I’d switch on “Animal Planet” or “National Geographic” and find myself enraptured, then in ridiculous floods of tears. I was longing for wildness, wild creatures, and the sense of belonging and perspective they give me.

What missing meant for me

It was only by leaving home that I could find myself missing something I hadn’t even known was essential to who I am. And in moving away from it, I was able to then move – consciously and mindfully – back towards it.

How did I do this?

First, while still in the Netherlands, I volunteered at a cat sanctuary that was in cycling distance from our tiny apartment in Amsterdam, so I could be around and give back to animals. Then, two years later, I returned home, where I’m able to spend more time in wild places and where I am slowly changing the direction of my career to reflect my passion for the natural world.

Becoming aware of the key role wilderness plays in my life has also helped me to accept my need to return home. It has helped me understand that I didn’t “fail” in my international experience.

And, of course, there are things I miss about my former host country too, like transparent governance, high levels of personal safety, better animal welfare laws, and seeing my partner (now my husband, in case you were wondering) immersed in his “first life”.

Global nomads will both gain and miss something from wherever we’ve been… Might it be that all the “missings”, however painful, are clues to what our fullest selves look and feel like? I think so.


What do you miss the most? What does this show you about yourself – and your needs? We would love to hear your story. And feel free to share this article with someone you miss!

PHOTO: Pexels/Harvey Sapir



  1. Abdelrahman says:

    I understand the situation written in the article very much. I have been through very hard time missing my friends, missing my family and lost confidence when I faced the very first problems. One would be mroe confident if he faces troubles in a known environment, but it is very different if it different environment and with people who do nto speak your language and if some do not appreciate your presence among them.

    I had several situations to share but may be different than the article itself, but I wold say that living abroad is full if hard times and obstacles, but it is an experience that certainly worth it. It is about how one would adapt and how is he/she accepting others.

    My kind regards,


    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Dear Abdelrahman,

      Firstly, I would like to thank you for letting me know that there was an issue with you posting a comment.

      It is now sorted as you can see above.

      Thank you for your sharing your thoughts with us. Indeed, missing friends and family can be so difficult in an environnment that we don’t feel so confident or comfortable because of language issues. I fully understand you both on a personal level (I have been there too) and on a professional level (many clients bring this to counselling).

      I agree with you that it is a matter of adjustment and accepting the ourselves and the others.

      Once again thanks for your post and being such a valuable member of the Expat Nest community.

      Best regards,


    2. Hi Abdelrahman,

      I understand what you mean completely. I have just moved to Cairo and the language is a really big obstacle. I am learning Arabic, but I feel completely helpless at the moment – I can’t even buy food!


  2. Abdelrahman says:

    Hi Vivian,

    Many thanks for that. Looking forward to the next post.


  3. Shweta Vermeulen says:

    Dear Vivian,

    I miss my family, the traditions , the comfort zone and the vibrance of my culture the most. Sometimes it’s hard but then I remind myself it can be worse! Thanks to technology and video chats, I feel blessed to be able to chat to my family and friends at the click of a button ! I try to visit my home country ( although I am confused if my birth country is my home country or Holland ) at least once a year if possible. I tell myself Holland is my adopted country and have accepted the fact that this is the place i will be living for the rest of my life. Having a lovely husband who is very supportive of any of my decisions be in personal or professional has helped a lot in my journey here! I guess the fact that my father was an ex-army personnel which has toughened me helps. As an Army kid, we had to move places very 2-3 years which makes one more adaptable than an average person who might have lived in one place their entire life. My mother has also been a strong influence ! The key is to always be connected to your family and be productive, at least in my case that works!

    Kind regards,


    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Dear Shweta,

      Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us.

      I relate to what you describe above…

      Indeed the modern technology help us all of us so much to keep in touch with our beloved ones. I genuinely believe that the love is never gone no matter of the distance and this love is a source of comfort and strength in difficult time.

      Here are two articles which may be interesting for you:

      a) Expat Story: where is home? (http://www.expatnest.com/expat-story-where-is-home-to-me/)

      b) 10 things you might have not know for Third Culture Kids ( http://www.expatnest.com/10-things-you-might-not-have-known-about-third-culture-kids-tcks/ ) This is for those with mobile childhood as you, with all the challenges and blessings that this experience brings.

      Once again thanks for your comment.

      Best wishes and keep enjoying the journey that you describe above ? ,


  4. I only moved to Cairo 3 days ago (for love), and the “thing” I’m missing most so far is my dog. Obviously I miss my friends and family terribly, but I didn’t live with them in the UK and I can pretty much connect with them any time I want to thanks to modern communication. But my dog was with me most of the time and I miss her presence with me. I miss her funny ways and her little noises. I have photographs, but I can’t talk to her. I know she’s living a fantastic life with my parents which gives me great comfort, but I still miss her dreadfully.

    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Dear Carol,

      Thank you so much for your comment and sharing your thoughts with us.

      Have you had the chance to explore Cairo? What do you like the most so far?

      I understand the pain of missing your dog so much.. Indeed knowing that she’s living a fantastic life with your parents can ease your pain but I understand you missing her so much,talking to her, cuddle her etc. Is there a possibility for you to have your dog with you in Cairo? Would that help?

      I am a dog person as well and used to have two dogs I am thinking of actually writing an article on dealing with the losing/missing a pet.

      Here are two articles which may be of value to you:

      a) Since you are a love-expat: ‘ Love-expat: how to create a meaningful life abroad’:


      b) 5 tips to feeling happier in a new place: http://www.expatnest.com/5-tips-to-feeling-happier-in-a-new-place/

      Wishing you all the best in your new life in Cairo!

      Best regards,


      1. Hi Vivian,

        thank you for your lovely words and your suggested links. I must say I am finding your website hugely helpful and will probably be seeking a consultation at some point.

        Unfortunately, my dog is a very old lady – she’s 16. She’s also extremely fluffy (she’s a breed from Shetland so she’s not designed for heat to say the least!) So because of these two factors I decided it was just totally unfair to put her through the journey to a place she probably wouldn’t be comfortable in. I did seriously consider it but decided I would only be doing it for me, and not considering her needs.

        Luckily, I already knew I loved Cairo and Egypt before I came, and at the moment it’s a case of remembering why I came and what I love about it, rather than focusing on all the really difficult things. I love its vibrancy and friendly people. But there is no escaping the fact that it’s culturally about as different as you can get from Scotland. And about 30 degrees hotter. Not good for a redheaded Celt!!!

        Anyway. Thanks for your reply. I’ll stop wittering.


        1. Vivian Chiona says:

          Dear Carol,

          Thank you so much for your comment and I am delighted to hear that you find Expat Nest valuable and helpful.

          Whenever the time is right for you, I am here for you.

          Re your dog, I understand this must have been a tough decision to make and I hope it comforts you that you did the best for her. Please remember that the love is never gone…

          Enjoy Egypt and hope you will get used to the temperature soon ?

          All the best,


    2. Abdelrahman says:

      Hi Carol,

      Thx for addressing me.

      I hope you find Cairo nice. Please let me know your number and I can give you any kind of suppot you need. I may know things you probably need to ask and I can give you all sort of advices/help you might need.

      My Email is: abdelrahman.ak@hotmail.com

      You can approach me any time you like.

      Best regards,


      1. Hi Abdelrahman,

        thank you for your reply and I have got your message in LinkedIn aswell. I am currently writing a list of questions so you might be sorry you offered!!! Are you Egyptian by the way?


        1. Abdelrahman says:

          Hi Carol,

          No worries at all. I am happy to help always.

          I am Egyptian yes, the reason I am helping others is that I have been through very harsh time finding my way as an expat. I did not know how to approach people, how to bring my food, how to find the nearest possible doctor when my daughter got sick in our very first weeks. The system in the NL is completely different than my country and to be honest, there was no one there when I needed to speak/ask and to have an advice. I thought that I am not alone and certainly others are facing my same situation in many other places. So it would be great to share any ideas that would support, help or even inspire others to fight for their new positions, life and be able to continue.

          I have learned and felt that indeeeeed (IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING).

    3. Renata says:

      Carol, I can completely relate to you missing your pet. In my first move as an 11-year-old (from South Africa to the UK), the hardest part was leaving our cat behind with the people who bought the house. I didn’t feel it was the right decision as the new owners weren’t cat people but I was so young and didn’t have much say in the decision. I can only trust that Ginger found his place there or that he moved to a better home (as cats are prone to doing!).

      Vivian, an article on dealing with leaving your pets would be amazing – as well as some tips for parents on how to discuss it with their children? Leaving a pet can be quite traumatic when it’s not dealt with in a positive way. I still have guilt about Ginger all these years later!

      1. Vivian Chiona says:

        Hi Renata,

        Thanks for your comment, your experience and the great input re an article about dealing with leaving pets. I am sure I will write such an article in the future and hope it will be of value to many pet-lovers like us.

        I am sure Ginger would have felt your love no matter far you were at that time.

        Best wishes,


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