With the recent development of the COVID-19, and some foreigners now being prevented from reintering China (following the Chinese Government notice published last week), many of the people living abroad have experienced or will experience what going back home deeply feels like. Some of them might indeed not return to China after the epidemic.
Regardless of the latter, and the peculiar daily life it induces, returning to where you grew up, for a couple of weeks or a longer period, often comes with a weird feeling. Most of the environment you grew up in is similar to what it was when you left, and yet, you do not feel quite the same toward it.
The reason is simple: people living abroad go through very peculiar experiences that change what home means to them, as well as their identity. Understanding why and how these two notions evolve can be challenging, especially when being in the middle of it.
Today, we present you with an overview of why and how “home” becomes a blurrier and blurrier notion for those who have made the choice to leave their original one, and how is one’s identity modeled by one’s chosen location.
We also take the occasion to tackle a challenge that recently arose for all those who did not re-enter China before last week's announcement.
With China's recent notice stating foreigners cannot enter the country anymore, in order to prevent the spread of the virus, many people have started to to plan repatriating their belongings from China while already outside the country.
As such, if you or your relatives are in such a situation, ASI Movers team expresses you its deep support in these difficult times.
We obviously remain at your disposal to help coordinate this unplanned move the best way possible.
Stay safe and take care everyone!
Why Does Living Abroad Affect your Definition of Home
You arrive in this new place, whom customs, traditions, and maybe language you are not familiar with. The concept of culture shock is a useful tool to understand how the sense of home is built when relocating.
In The Art of Coming Home, Craig Sorti breaks it up in 4 steps: honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment and adaptation. It’s also useful to note that, if we consider going to another country after, or back home, the process follows a W shape.
What makes us able to overcome the crisis state, and eventually adapt to the new place we live in, is our emotional resilience.
Emotional resilience is the psychological ability to adapt to the challenges coming to you by developing psychological and behavioral capabilities that allow you to remain calm during crisis, moving on from the past incident (in that case relocating to a foreign environment) without long-term negative consequences. Depending on the person, this process can take more or less time and effort. For most global nomads, this ability indeed increases, becoming a habit. It's aslo a useful concept to understand our reactions toward the epidemic the world is currently living.
When completed, it nevertheless has changed you as you have indeed faced an identity dilemma. You have accepted and overcome the discrepancies between your past and present lives and environments. It requires you to determine what your core values and beliefs are, which will remain constant throughout your life, which ones will be ditched, and integrate aspects of the local identity into your own. The "nomadic lifestyle" can thus be summed up in a search for congruence in our sense of who we are, no matter where we are.
This integration can also be very trivial and as simple as changing your consumption habits, the way you behave in the street or address people. In that sense, you are changed by your new environment, which now becomes home to you.
Why Going Back Home Often Doesn't Quite Feel Like Doing So
When returning back home, you would at first expect to completely fit in, as you have just got back to a familiar environment and set of known cultural references. However, it’s often not the case, for three main reasons:
- You have adapted to your life abroad: as stated, following the U-curve previously described, you have adapted to your life abroad, picking up the local habits, the codes, and the way of thinking. You thus now have to go through the second part of the curve i.e. readapting to home. Your whole lifestyle has been affected and might not be congruent at all with your original one.
- You have changed because of your experiences abroad and what you have learned being far from your home country. What you know about the world, and thus your opinions, have enriched and might not totally fit with the lifestyle you used to have.
- Home has changed and/or is not similar to the image you kept in mind. Living abroad also means life continues back home without you being completely involved, the environment you were used to (economic, political, cultural, and even physical) has evolved, and even your friends have changed with time. You might also have kept in mind an idealized or, on the contrary, a negative image of home, and comparing it with the reality when returning is can be disorientating.
Consequently, home, more often than not, feels foreign. Not only has it changed while you were away, but you also see it differently, as if you had put new lenses on. In some cases, you can even feel marginalized, become critical toward your home town/country which can eventually lead to exhaustion and depression.
Home for Global Individuals: A Complex Notion
As such, the notion of home has a very peculiar sense for global individuals. This is due to the fact that it is tightly linked to their identity, and the latter is in their case more prone to acculturation (the assimilation to a different culture, typically the dominant one). Remember that your identity is obviously also shaped by your social groups, your role in a given society, your "group memberships", etc.
One can then easily understand how the place we live in affects our identity and thus where we feel at home: a different place means different social roles, different interpersonal interaction, different believes, etc. As such, one is continuously building his or her identity along the way, far from were he or she grew up. Coming back might then not feel quite aligned with who we are now. One is entitled to social roles and practices he or she has grown away from.
Yet, because the global lifestyle means having experienced sometimes multiple places of residence, one has often the feeling of belonging to all of them and none of them at the same time. The identity and sense of belonging to somewhere or something has grown apart from a specific location or culture, and is more linked to the nuclear family one has been moving with, a set of familiar objects, or even just the feeling of being in a foreign environment. In that respect, the sense of home is complex because it is intangible and its construction differs from one global individual to another, depending on his or her own journey and emotional resilience mechanisms.
In normal times, preparing your return, reviewing your expectations as to know which ones might not be met, defining a routine you feel comfortable following prior to coming back, enrolling in projects and activities that stimulate you and are in adequation with who you now are and taking time to reconnect to those who stayed are useful tools to make the best of your journey back.
In times like these, one might be in search for a feeling of safety which one’s home country can provide if the process is handled with enough preparation and care. It is indeed the perfect time to reconnect and share your experience!
For those undertaking this journey, we wish all the best, and good health on the way!
Take time for yourself, your loved ones, and the projects you care about!