Where is home to an expat?
Where is home to an expat? What are you doing to build your home these days?
In modern travel, we are sold exotic touristic destinations, which we visit hoping that they are going to be “the place of our dreams”. However, we often don´t realize that, rather than traveling to experience a genuine immersion and close encounter with a new culture, it is just an ephemeral incursion to “wherever”, another place in the tourism industry´s list of exotic places.
In his book “The Naked Tourist”, Lawrence Osborne criticizes modern travel and introduces the concept of “whereverness” as a way to define the current tendency of seeing a plurality of places merged into one single, uniform place. According to Osborne, travelers are like perpetual strangers “wandering through an imitation of an imitation of a place they wanted to go to”.
In addition to this, I was reading a book by a French Writer and Anthropologist Mark Auge, who created the concept of “non-place” to refer to locations that lack the characteristics needed for the definition of a place. Examples of non-places are international airports, shopping malls or hotel rooms, typically populated with anonymous individuals, always in transit from one location to the other. These non-places lack identity, relationships or history and the footprints of their residents can´t be tracked.
Osborne and Auge´s writing inspired me to think about expatriates and their sense of identity and attachment when transitioning from one place to the other, far away from what they would call “home”.
So, where is home for an expatriate? We are facing an era of uncertainty, anonymity and loss of identity. How can expatriates introduce a difference and leave marks in a world of pure transition?
Since Sigmund Freud´s contributions to Psychoanalytical literature in 1930, we know that living as part of a culture is always the source of both joy and suffering. As the little human being grows up, he/she is educated within the common rules of their culture. This involves declining one´s instinctual tendency of unlimited satisfaction, in aid of gaining a place in the society and benefiting from establishing and nurturing social relationships with others. Ambiguous as it sounds, these relationships give us a much needed attachment to ourselves and to our roots, facilitating our growth. In other words, social interactions with significant others are the source of personal transformation and development of a person´s uniqueness.
Due to permanent change of locations, communities, jobs and friends, expatriates are even more exposed to the risk of limited personal growth and disruption of their sense of identity throughout the time.
In our days, the concepts of space and time – traditionally considered as fixed, closed structures- are clearly in transition, leading us to think of them as unpredictable and unstructured settings. We no longer can call home our country of origin. Home is not even the house we built or the place where we were born. Rather than a physical place, home is what we do with others. Home is an action, rather than a noun. The sense of belonging, traditionally attached to a physical place, is now evolving in a new conception of belonging based on actions that relate one person to others. Basically, the sense of identity and of being at “home” is constructed by people when doing a common task with others. So, where is home for an expatriate?
What are you doing to build your home these days?
Psychologist & Intercultural Trainer
Bs As, Argentina
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