Oct 3, 2013

The Expat Dilemma: My Struggle Between Home & Home

As I sat in the rocking chair-lined international terminal at CLT waiting to board my flight back to Germany last Tuesday, I felt a lump welling up in my throat. I'd just spent 3 amazing weeks visiting with my family and friends and galavanting around America like I'd never left it. I had been safe within the bosom of everything I'd always known and life felt right, but not right all in the same conflicted feeling. With a pumpkin spiced latte in hand, I scrolled through the photos in my iPhone from my visit, pausing on each one to try and lock the memory inside my brain just in case my iPhone failed me someday. As I began to Instagram this photo, the lump in my throat broke free and few small tears escaped my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. There was nothing I could do to hold them back, so I let them fall quietly as I set facing a wall of windows, airplanes taking off in the distance.


This time, the last time I'd be boarding a Germany-bound plane from America, was the hardest I've faced. I was so close to being stateside permanently that I felt more of an attachment than any visit before. Like my American umbilical cord was slowly starting to reattach, only the attachment was a bit premature. Once the tears subsided, I thought about a lot of things sitting in the terminal that afternoon. I thought about how much I miss North Carolina, yet I haven't lived there for over 5 years. I thought about how quickly these last 27 months abroad have flown by, yet I could still remember how I felt the first time we left for Germany, like it happened just yesterday. I thought about all the things I've done and seen and learned and how much I've grown and changed and evolved as a person while so far from the familiar. I'm not the same person I was when I first started this journey...a fact I'm both scared and proud of. Then I thought of all the events, the milestones I miss out on when I'm on my comfy couch in Deutschland. I felt homesick for home and I hadn't even left the ground yet.

4 days later, I'm sitting at a fest table in Stuttgart, enjoying another maß of cold hefeweizen as the debauchery of Volksfest clambered on around me. I'm currently reveling at the fact that I know what a maß is and how to spell it. Who am I? Some days I feel like I'm living in a parallel universe and my life is not my own. Anywho, the fest is positively German, a perfect combination of all the things I've grown to love and yearn for. The camaraderie, the food & drink, the cultural mish-mosh of old and new all dancing around in one giant tent of happiness. This is Germany. This is what makes my heart leap with joy at the thought of my good fortune for getting to live here. Those "pinch me" moments were out in full force that afternoon. This is the life. This is the most incredible experience, living in a foreign country that's grown to become home to me. Home? Yeah, I said it. Germany feels like home to me, too. Believe me, it's not something I ever thought I'd be saying. Home (NC) is home to me. Always. But, Germany is home to the new me. The me that found out I could live somewhere so far out of my comfort zone and thrive. The me that has become worldly, having traveled to 22 different countries in just 2 short years. The me that adapted and cut out a little Germany-sized spot in my heart and tucked it away for safe keeping. Germany feels more like home to me than when we were stationed in Virginia for 3 years prior. Isn't that something? Like I said, a parallel universe. This life can't be my own.

 I mentioned to D upon his arrival back to Germany (just 2 short days after mine) that I felt sort of "checked out" from Deutschland. The glitter and stardust from home was still so heavy in my eyes that I didn't quite care about the Thanksgiving trip we've been planning. Or the wineries we've been meaning to visit. We are so close to the end that being home just reminded me that this place we live in, Germany, is only temporary. Maybe it was my defense mechanism kicking in. You know, the one that makes you push something you love away because you know it's leaving you? Maybe that. All I knew was I'd began the process of washing my hands of this place. I was going to finish out my sentence and go back to where the grass seemed greener. It wasn't until I was standing on that fest table in Stuttgart, listening as the beer glasses clanged together in unison, that I realized this grass is green too, and I'm really freakin' gonna miss it. Just as quickly as I thought I'd checked out of Deutschland, I checked right back in again. Germany I can't quit you...no, not just yet.

And so the war between home and home wages on. Daily I set one foot out the Germany door and somewhere throughout the day it pops back inside again. I lament and long for home, all the while crying in my heart for pretzels and Riesling. I know that 8 months from now, I'll have my heart ripped out, yet somehow it will be mended again with the bandaids of home. Real home. It's a funny feeling, honestly. And surreal. Very surreal. How is it possible to have room in your heart for two very different places? Why does this tug of war between the familiar and the unfamiliar wreak havoc on my emotions? I guess it's because when something begins to define you, you let it take over everything you are. Your heart, your mind, your own thoughts about the world and your place in it. My North Carolina life defines me. My life abroad defines me. There's room for both, and I'm beginning to be ok with that. Saying goodbye won't be easy, but saying hello won't be hard. I'm beginning to be ok with that, too.

[Linking up with Postcards From Rachel for Expat Diaries]

47 comments:

  1. A beautiful reflection Casey! I'm about ot leave Australia and I am doing the same, pushing it away like I won't miss it, but I know I will. It's a daily argument with myself weighing up the pros and cons and letting myself believe leaving is the right decision. Although I'm only going home for a short time, I know it will be very hard to leave. Good luck saying goodbye to Germany, but definitely enjoy it while you've got it, I'm sure you'll miss it when it's gone.

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    1. Isn't it funny how we do that? Push away the things we love instead of embracing them even more? I'm trying my hardest not to get too wrapped up in my own head about it all...but instead enjoying every last second we have here in Germany! I'm absolutely positive saying goodbye will be hard, but thank goodness I can always visit again! Thanks for your kind words!

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  2. It is really hard and a weird feeling to love two homes. I thought when I returned to the states in 2010 that I wouldn't be ready to return to Germany for awhile. I knew someday we would but my husband was immigrating to the states for me so surely we'd be there awhile right? Wrong. Somehow Germany carved a bigger spot in my heart than I realized and this felt like home. Some days I do t believe it. Can't believe it. Who am I!?! :-) But I love it here and will always have two homes.

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    1. Oh, Germany, tugs at those heartstrings! It's amazing to me how my love for it crept up so quickly and has managed to stay around. I love how you said you'll always have two homes...I so feel you on that!

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  3. Aw I love this and I totally get how you feel! Being an expat does weird things to you! You have 'home' in your home country, but you're also able to make a 'home' in your new country. Its confusing how your heart can love two, three, or four places at once! Can't wait for my turn in America!

    Thank you for this post Casey!

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  4. Oh, I know exactly how you feel! Everytime I visit my family in Tenerife I feel slightly heartbroken when I'm about to board my plane back to my real life in Europe. Tenerife was my home during my childhood and young adult years and there are so many memories I cherish from those early years. But I've grown to love my life in Europe as well and I wouldn't trade the 'home' I have with my boyfriend here for anything in the world. And when we moved from Holland last summer I also felt that I left a piece of my heart there, even though I knew that I would be living in a place I love as well.
    So make the most of your last 8 months in Germany and who knows, you might be back again sooner than expected enjoying some great holidays in all the places you love :)

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  5. Ugh, I leave in two years and I'm already dreading it. I totally feel you on this one. This has become a place where I've really thrived and found so many different things about myself I never would have discovered otherwise. If it was up to me I'd stay here for at least 5 years instead of 3. Maybe you guys will end up some place super cool!

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  6. I think that part of how we feel depends on what the end is, like in your case you had a date you knew was looming ahead when it would be back to the US and in my case I have no end date to my life in Sweden so we naturally make different allowances. You say you will be mended by real home which is so true because that is what needs to happen for life to go on, I have to work to make Sweden my real home so my life can go on.

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  7. This is a wonderful post, Casey. I have to confess, I have never lived anywhere other than the city I was born in, but Hubby and I did give some thought to emigrating to Australia after a fantastic 3-week honeymoon there back in 2010/11. We decided against it because I simply cannot imagine living anywhere else. I think it's a very lucky and fortunate individual that can create a new home, a place that truly feels like home like Germany does for you, away from their 'birth' home; be proud and celebrate that fact! I do occasionally find my mind wandering about once a week to daydream about a life lived elsewhere, because they say 'home is here the heart is' and I'm pretty sure my heart is wherever my husband is, but I cannot bring myself to comitt to making that move. Make the most of your final 8 months in Germany, as I'm sure the 3 years you and D have spent there will always be special - look how much the country and its culture has shaped and changed you, the adult you - but don't wish it away and check out too soon - I'm sure you'll miss Germany and all her quirks when you're back State-side :) Thanks for sharing xx

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  8. Casey, I LOVED this post! I can totally relate to your sentiments and I just love reading anything you write - you have such a personable way of connecting with your readers. :) I've been toiling with my own post about home, too, and this one helped give me that extra push to finish it. :) Thank you for sharing today!

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  9. This was so beautifully written and I absolutely loved reading it. Raw, honest, beautiful, truth. Ain't nothing quite like it.

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  10. I know the feeling, except this time I'd changed. I really felt like I had two homes. I went home and felt like meh, I'm back. Came to Germany and felt, meh, I'm back. It was so strange to not really be excited either direction and rather have both feel so normal and routine.

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  11. I can so relate to this! We're leaving next year too-it's a crazy blend of being homesick for the USA but also loving Germany...maybe we're meant for more than just one corner of the world.

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  12. Casey, this was such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing the internal struggles that so many of us can't quite describe. Your words and thoughts make me yearn for discovering a new "home" outside of the United States. While so much of it is terrifying and lonesome at times, I think it is beautiful that you have found memories, adventures and a place in your heart for a "second home". XO Moe

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  13. Loved this post. I think one of the best feelings I've had as an adult was moving to a new city and obtaining that feeling that this is home now, and I'm comfortable with it. I think it's wonderful that you felt that feeling pretty quick for Germany, but hell, I can see why! :-) life is consantly changing and how blessed are you to have had such an opportunity?! Not to mention Germany will always be there for you when you get homesick.

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  14. This is such a beautiful post! It must be a really odd feeling to feel at home in a different way in two completely different places.
    xoxo Aimee
    Bows&Beau-ties

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    1. It is a strange feeling...but also a good one. Hard to describe it, really. Thanks for your comment!

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  15. I have felt this way all my life, a mix between 2 homes, 1 international, 1 in the US, and honestly, leaving Germany will hurt, it will really hurt because it's such a part of you. But the thing is, you can always go back. You can always keep it a part of yourself. So enjoy each and every part of the process, because looking back, it will all shape who you become! :)

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  16. This is so beautiful. I can relate to it in a different way: the struggle between home (my hometown) and my new home (my college town.) I'm really trying to soak up the last few weeks in my new home, because in 11 weeks I will be leaving it for good.

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  17. Hi Casey, beautiful post. There is certainly room for both places. After living abroad and moving back, I've realized that home is where your partner is. You are sad at first, but life takes over and you will build new memories. It will all work out. :)
    http://liveitinerantly.com

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    1. Thank you, Quyen! I'm starting to see that loving another place like home doesn't mean I don't love my real home any less. And I totally agree, wherever your spouse is, is where home is. :)

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  18. i know exactly how you feel. when i went home for christmas i was so incredibly sad to leave and go back to spain. which is crazy to think that i would rather stay at home than continue traveling and living in europe. but the comfort of home and the familiarity is just so nice when you haven't had that for awhile. i've been back in the states for over 2 months now and of course now i am itching for that uncomfortable/ out of my comfort zone/ new place experience again

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  19. Ah, Casey! You took the words right out of my mouth. As an expat (a relatively long-term expat), I think it's impossible to live without one foot in each country. Both a blessing and a curse, our hearts will forever be torn between two places. Still I wouldn't trade it for anything :) Enjoy the last 8 months my dear friend! xxx

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  20. I love this so much. I have never lived abroad, but I have lived in multiple places in the US. This just speaks to me. There are multiple places that are HOME to me. I think once you love somewhere (or someone) and that place puts its indent in your heart, you never fully leave it. Even if you move back "home." Even if you move on to a new "home." I think it's very possible to have more than one.

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  21. You expressed exactly what I was and am going through! Originally from Germany, I have my second home in the US and once I am in either of the two countries it just feels like I have never left.
    Enjoy the last couple of month in Germany (your posts make me want to see so much more of my own country, like Wasen in Stuttgart ;))

    Greetings, Jasmin

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  22. Like many of the other girls who have commented no this post, I can totally relate! I just had a three-week vacation at home in July (which will also be my last vacation before I permanently move back to the states!) and it was very hard for me to leave. While I was home it felt like I had never been away. And now that I am back in Costa Rica it feels like that vacation was years ago and the thought of leaving my little home here for good tugs at my heart!!

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  23. Another wonderful article, yes, I'm calling your writing articles now since they are so well written. I can easily see this published in a magazine. I'm thankful that you and D have been able to experience so much and that you've been able to share some of it with us through your wonderful photographs. I pray that your next duty station is all that you wish for.

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    1. You are too sweet to me, Mama B! I love and miss you so much!! xoxo

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  24. I can relate to this post so much. We are blessed enough to only live 11.5 hours from our hometown but it's always hard to leave when the time comes. Hugs my friend!

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  25. You have touched on so many things that I've felt throught these past ten years abroad (10... eeek!) especially the bit about how NC will always be home but Germany is new you home. That's exactly how I feel about the States and Europe. I'm American of course, that will always be home-home, but a part of me will always belong to Ireland and France now.
    Thanks for opening up, it was beautifully honest, touching and heartfelt :)

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  26. This. All of it. So beautifully written, you had me in tears! I sort of struggle with feeling like two places are home although they are much, much closer together. You always want to get back to the other place but when you finally get there you miss the other home. Here's to hoping you peace of mind over the next few months leading up to your big move!

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  27. you are truly a beautiful writer casey : ) i love the thought of having room for two places because as an expat, we take pieces from everyplace that we live to make up our own home, our own culture. you will never ben the same after traveling and living abroad because leaving each place is difficult in it's own way and you will miss it in it's own unique way. it's a confusing mix of emotions, this expat game of ours : )

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  28. Loved this post. It's such a strange feeling isn't it? Even though we are not that far from the UK, I feel in a kind of limbo about it all...

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  29. Eleven years after I left England and I feel this way every day. Indiana is home but England will also always hold a special place in my heart and be home too.

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  30. I want to give you a big hug! I was only abroad for a year but you described the situation perfectly - one foot in, one foot out. And feeling homesick for multiple locations.

    It's a confusing life.

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  31. Such a great post and how I've been feeling the last couple of weeks. I've only been living abroad for a short time (just 7 months) but it's become who I am and truely like another home!

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    1. Thanks so much! It's amazing how quickly living abroad can attach right to your heart! :)

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  32. That's exactly how I feel about the States and Europe. I'm American of course, that will always be home-home, but a part of me will always belong to Ireland and France now. quality home care.

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  33. I've been there and now I'm on the other side and I still miss Italy every day. I still feel like we were short changed, but couldn't let that bring me down; I treasure our time in Europe so much. My friends kept asking me (before we left) how I could be excited to live in America again. It wasn't that I was excited, but it was that I had to make that my frame of mind. I knew we couldn't stay in Europe, so I had to make myself think of all the positive things America had, otherwise I'd be back here dreading everything. I think you have to have that disconnect at some point before you leave so that it won't hurt as much. You'll miss Germany every day once you're back, but luckily Germany will always be part of you.

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  34. Beautifully written and exactly right. You'll always have a German sized hole in your heart, and one for North Carolina too.

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  35. Sorry about the above comments - I had written a long comment which wouldn't publish and I was testing the publish button and of course, this time it did.

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    1. Haha no worries, Jill! The internet can be a pain sometimes. :)

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  36. What an amazing post! Something that many people can't quite fully understand was captured so perfectly here. After living in Rome for a few months I felt so many of the same emotions (although I'm sure yours are much stronger since you've been in Germany so much longer).

    It's such a bizarre thing, and also a blessing, to have multiple places become your home. It leaves you with the strangest feeling, as you end up homesick, and longing for another place, even when you are at home somewhere else. We are so lucky to have these experiences though, just as you said it!

    Beautiful post, thank you! Even after two year I miss Rome literally every day, but home, stateside home that is, frequently reminds me just how sweet it can be too.

    Take care!

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  37. This is so eloquently written and I'm pretty sure it speaks not only to me but to SO many others too... thank you for sharing it. I often just want to hurry up and leave Germany and go home home, even though this is now home, but then I think of how sweet the time here has been, and think how I never want to leave. I think some continental drift could be the solution here...

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