The psychology of living overseas: Is home not your home anymore?

The psychology of living overseas: Is home not your home anymore?

THE EXPAT MIND: Do Aussies who venture overseas to live do so because they don’t feel entirely at home in Australia. Are they are looking for something or somewhere different – a place where they feel that they might actually belong?

As Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz, “there’s no place like home”, but what is home and how do we know when we have found it?

This can be an important question if you are an Australian living in the UK – or an expat of any stripe for that matter – to ask yourself, particularly if you are considering whether or not to stay here permanently or to move back to home.

So what does ‘home’ mean to you? When you really think about it where are you drawn to or where do you feel you belong? Is home where you grew up, the country you are from, your cultural upbringing, the city you live in, or is it perhaps a feeling, a person, or something harder to pinpoint and describe?

A place to belong?

Some people are of the view that Aussies who venture over to the UK to live, often do so because they don’t feel entirely at home in Australia and they are looking for something or somewhere different – a place where they feel that they might fit in better or belong. That may well be true for some of you. Australia, or the city or town you are from, just might not fit with who you feel you are or who you want to be and maybe it never will. Perhaps when you arrived in London and got yourself established here everything just clicked and you felt like London was the place for you. As such, maybe you felt you were really home.

However, I wonder if for many Australians journeying overseas to the UK and elsewhere it is typically more about having new experiences and adventures and discovering more about who they are as individuals, whilst in the process inadvertently finding an internal sense of home and belonging?

Liberation from home allows you true independence

Although living across the other side of the world can be scary, lonely and challenging at times, there is often a sense of freedom and liberation in being so far away from friends and family who are likely to have distinct perceptions and expectations of who they think you are and what you are like. Leaving all of that behind gives you the opportunity to break away and to experiment with being different. This process can therefore be incredibly rewarding as it can lead to you discovering how you truly want to be in life, what fits with who you are now and what makes you happy as an independent adult.

Part of the process is likely to involve making mistakes along the way as you learn and grow and take risks, but I would argue that is all part of what makes the experience of living overseas richer and more rewarding in the long term. Why? Because working out who we are is often achieved as much through experiencing and discovering what we don’t like or what doesn’t suit us, as what does. This process of exploration can involve all aspects of our lives: work, friendships, romance, hobbies and socialising. As such, your time living in the UK might involve quite a lot of change and upheaval, both positive and negative.

For this very reason some people find counselling or coaching helpful, because it gives them the opportunity to explore who they are and what they want in their life, as well as helping support them through any changes they are making or dealing with whether personally or work related. At times that can also involve looking at what home means to you and where you eventually would like to end up – particularly if you are trying to decide between life in London and returning to Australia, both of which are likely to have pros and cons.

I worried that as more time passed, Australia might feel less and less like home

Thinking about my own personal experiences as an Aussie living and working in London for many years, although I have always considered myself Australian (and a proud Aussie at that), up until recently I never felt truly at home anywhere. In fact, like a lot of Australians living in the UK for long periods of time, I think I felt in-between places, not totally committed to London but not wanting to move back to Australia either. And I worried that as more time passed, Australia might feel less and less like home, so I would end up feeling in-between places permanently, or like nowhere would ever really feel like home.

However, when I went back to Sydney for a visit for my 40th birthday after a number of years away (and having made a lot of changes in my life during that time), I finally realised where my true home lay. Almost from the moment the plane landed in Sydney I had a powerful sense that I was home, in a deep and abiding way. It wasn’t about the people, the culture or the place specifically… but at the same time, it was about all of it. I just felt that Australia, and more specifically Sydney, was where I belonged and where I fit, in a way I had never felt before about anywhere.

That doesn’t mean I was heading back permanently anytime soon, as my life and work is here and I am happy in London. What it does mean though is that I now know what it feels like to have a true sense of belonging, and that gives me an internal sense of security and comfort regardless of where I am in the world.

Saff Mitten is an Australian counsellor, psychotherapist and life coach living and working in London. She has a great understanding of the range of practical and emotional issues Australians can face when living in the UK. If you want to contact her, please email info@saffmittentherapy.com or call her on 07721872160. Also, if you want to find out more information about what Saff does, you can visit her website: www.saffmittentherapy.com

 

Saff Mitten

Saff Mitten

Saff Mitten is a an experienced counsellor, psychotherapist and life coach who sees clients in Central and North West London. An Australian herself, she has been based in London for the past 11 years and she has a good understanding of the range of practical and emotional issues Australians can face living in the UK. In addition she has experience of working with clients on a wide range of other issues including relationship problems, anxiety, depression, stress, problems at work and many more.


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