Seasonal foreignness

 

Every year , around the start of summer vacation, I hear the same familiar complaint from my children: “Why do we always have to go to Greece for vacation? Why can’t we go somewhere else for a change?” Every year, my answer is the same (including the part where I tell them how spoiled they are and that other kids – not to mention adults – would be thrilled to go to Greece for
vacation, while they are being so difficult about it): “Because your mother is from Greece, which makes you half-Greek, and this is our home.” But is it really?
Lately, I have been reading a lot about what happens to people when they move back to their home country after having lived abroad; how the experience is predictably rewarding but can also be unpredictably challenging. The fact that the challenges catch most people completely by surprise is the main reason why repatriation is so hard to cope with. Not having been through it myself, I have been trying to find ways to relate to that experience, so that I can write about it.
In fact, a lot of what I have been reading about re-entry reminds me of what happens when I return home for longer periods of time, which is the case every summer. Many expatriates who go back to their passport countries find that home does not feel like home any more; that they have become foreigners where they least expected that to happen; that their loyalty is divided between two (or more) “homes.” That’s something to which I can relate. It does not make such a big impression on me now – maybe because I have been used to it over the years – but being home always reveals that split in my life and in my identity. On the one hand, I have a strong bond with Greece. It overwhelms me with euphoria the moment the airplane touches down on Greek soil and crushes me with nostalgia when that other airplane takes me away. I love everything about “my” country – its natural beauty and its (disorganised) chaos; the warmth of the weather and that of the people; the fact that I can understand both the text and the subtext when I interact with them; the feeling of belonging.
On the other hand, when I am in Greece, I am always the visitor; the tourist; the foreigner. Nothing much is expected of me. I am not supposed to completely fit in, but that feels strange rather than liberating. There are moments when I miss the comfort of being a foreigner somewhere where I am actually justified in being one, rather than somewhere where I really shouldn’t. And, of course, after a while
I start missing my “other” home; my house; my routines. To quote Kundera, (my) life is elsewhere.
Many of us perpetual foreigners experience this duality – the “split personality,” the unexpected emotional connections to different places at the same time. The contrast is always there, but it is only when we come “home” that it becomes blindingly obvious.
Do you feel foreign, at home?

2 Comments

  1. When I am in Europe, I am American: loud, brash, slightly clumsy, over-enthusiastic in a world of nuances and doublespeak…When I am in the US, I am European: aloof, over-educated, out-of-sync with the avalanche of black-and-white opinions and immovable orthodoxies of a culture at one and the same time supremely sure of itself and desperately insecure…

    And yet, for all this sense of "foreignness", so many of us dualists have a tendency to magnify this multinationalism in our children, sending them to international schools, or otherwise expanding their cultural and linguistic capabilities until they surpass our own. Do we recognize benefits that outweighed the challenges we experienced?

    1. That's an excellent comment, Nicholas. We *must* think that the benefits they get from this multicultural upbringing outweigh the identity and other challenges they have to learn to cope with as a result. I would like to think that in addition to the "citizen of the world" mentality we try to instill in them, we also provide them with some coping strategies. Besides, I am guessing that overall, we are quite happy with our "dual" life. If you had the chance to lead a "normal" (monocultural) life, would you choose that over what you are now? I wouldn't.

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