Coping with expat homelessness - My Family in Global Transition. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partner.

Coping with Expat Homelessness – My Family in Global Transition.

Coping with expat homelessness - My Family in Global Transition. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partner.It’s the latest expat dilemma in the Defining Moves household, and in answer to our newly homeless state, I’m moving in with my sister. She may be currently unaware of her impending fate, but I’m guessing that she will be the recipient of quite a few panicked phone calls to inform her within minutes of this post being published.

It’s been a tricky few weeks in our family life; a combination of relief/grief that our home (albeit not one we have lived in for the last 7 years) has finally sold. It’s the first home that the OH and I bought together, the one we spent 8 years of blood, sweat and tears (and near financial ruin) renovating, and is the place where Feisty entered the world, prophetically at high speed and interrupting a particularly good Royal Variety Performance.

It’s hosted Millennium parties, expat students, copious numbers of chickens and too many renovation weekend projects to count. Friends and family have been coerced into everything from installing septic tanks, tiling bathrooms and ripping up floorboards, regardless of ability, stage of pregnancy or copious quantities of small children. Ask most of my Facebook friends for their memories of the house and they will cite brambles, dust, chaos, dodgy alcohol, and hopefully, laughter.  But for the last eight years, it’s been rented by a number of tenants ranging from the delightful to the dire, and is beginning to show the strain.

Throughout our expat travels, it’s what we have always called home, so ten days to pack up a household and fifteen years of memories, friendships and roots were all too short. We saw so many friends that we have missed, and missed seeing too many more. All the while, we worried that we would lose our roots, our stability, and our sense of home.

But a funny thing happened as we drove away, en route to my sister’s house. As the house disappeared from the rear view mirror, we didn’t feel sad anymore. We had had a brilliant ten days, surrounded by people who we only get to see every few years, and yet we picked up the threads as if it were only yesterday. We blended back into life without so much as a ripple, and when answering questions about when we would be returning, it was clear that not only would we be coming back, but that we knew how, when and what adventures we are going to have. This particular chapter may be over, but the story is far from finished.

I had imagined that the kids would be sad, saying goodbye to the only home that they had ever known, but I had missed the obvious point. It has not been their only home, and everywhere they have lived, they have been surrounded by people who care for them, whether blood relations or friends. The people at ‘home’ have taught them about friendship, strength of character and what is really important, and those values are what the rest of our gathered global family have in common.

We have gained so much more than we have lost, and it took selling the house to realize it. We were so focused on the safety net below, we had forgotten to look at the view. Somehow, having no house to call our own meant absolutely.. nothing. We still had the laughs, the stories, the catching up and the paintball bruises. We still have friends who find time to spend with us, who tolerate the months of silence followed by hours of chaos and who understand that if we didn’t catch them this time, we will definitely see them next visit. The memories of good times didn’t disappear once the pictures were packed, and we don’t need to be in the same room to share a common ground.

As the miles began to build up between ourselves and our former home, the Wiggy One made a observation, in rather less sombre tones than you might expect.

“Auntie Sarah’s is our home now”. He was smiling when he said it.

I had been thinking the same thing only that morning, when I woke up in her house, on a makeshift Ikea bed, amid the accumulated debris of my (temporarily displaced) nephew’s bedroom. In under two weeks, my physical residence in my home nation has gone from 6000 to 3 square feet. The only things I owned were in the suitcase on the floor and in a top drawer of the dresser – my drawer.

It represented permanence, the expectation that you are returning, and when you do, you will always have a place here. It’s all the things that we treasure about ‘home’, acceptance, love, laughter and a profound sense of stability. What we didn’t realize before was that it was held in bonds not bricks, hearts and not houses and people, rather than simply places.

It’s funny what having your own drawer can do. And a wonderful, kind and incredibly generous global family, who welcome us home; wherever, whenever.



19 thoughts on “Coping with Expat Homelessness – My Family in Global Transition.”

  1. I can relate to every word you say as I have done exactly the same thing last week. Brilliantly written. Thank you.

    1. Here’s hoping it went as well for you, Arabella! Perhaps we should compare notes on how many unwanted items we have managed to pack in a shipment. So far, I’ve got a massage table, a very dodgy painted table and a broken bed. You?

  2. It’s all a process isn’t it. At different points along the way, you always find yourself doing something you never thought you would – whether it’s holding an alligator or selling the only house you own in the world! Best of luck Yates family xxx

  3. I enjoyed this post very much. Some of my expat friends worry that especially their children will lose their sense of home with all the relocations the lifestyle brings, but you eloquently point how a family can find the deeper understanding of what “home” is.

    1. Thank you – although I have to admit, I had expected the children to be far more upset, but their appreciation of what really made ‘home’ special surprised me. We are incredibly lucky to have people in our lives who make us feel welcome without placing expectations on us, which I’m sure makes it all far easier.

  4. Simply lovely. We are so glad to have your family in this little part of the world, for however long you call it home!

  5. We have had a bumpy year on the emotional front since leaving the US and although Ian is now officially ‘home’ and we are now in our own house, it doesn’t always feel as though we are entirely settled yet. One of the things I found the hardest when back in the UK for Christmas was having Jessica (11) say she didn’t really care about England any more and felt more American than British. (This was all part of a long grieving process for her which included telling me she hated me on several occasions and we had ruined her life!) It made me SO happy last week to ahve her cry at the end of the Olympics and tell me how proud she is to be British! Somehow, through it all, we always retain a sense of ‘home’, even when there is no house there any more. You have certainly hit the nail on the head with this one. Nice, Rachel.

  6. Oh lovely! We’re in an opposite state almost – not letting go but rediscovering.

    We had kept W’s bachelor pad when we left UK in 2002 as a stop gap and rental income for just in cases. It has had a procession of admittedly pretty good tenants in over the years. In Feb we decided to not to rent out again as we are mainly back in the UK and the big events happening in London this summer could be enjoyed in our own comfort we thought.

    What we hadn’t realised is W has been able to take opportunity to work in UK from his “pad” and we can spend a little more time with him and he can enjoy work in a way he’s not had for a long time too – socialising with old mates in London in the week – mmmm.

    We didn’t realise that our 9 yo would fall in love with apartment living and be desperate to go there so regularly – well London’s fun whatever age you are!

    W and I didn’t realise that being together in our first home together (I moved in….cushions and fridge filling did too) and somehow be able to “tap” into that very special loved up time in our life together – pre all the stress of parenting and expat living – that’s been a lovely surprise.

    I didn’t realise that I’d find that little bit of me I’d seem to have lost and enjoy wandering around rediscovering old haunts and enjoying finding new ones – and so strangely feeling “at home” for the first time in years – I knew who I was in this bit of space and although the plans and dreams I had then haven’t happened in the way I had hoped, I pleased to be reunited with that bit of me and that sense of home I’d not had.

    We’ve lived in 7 homes in the past 10 years – they’ve all been our home and each will have special and differing memories e.g Dublin1 when we brought the pudding home (baby) for first time, Dublin 2 his first Xmas, et. The friends we have made in each of those places who have contributed to our time there all and changed our lives in kind, fun-loving ways.

    Its a year since I moved back to UK to a new home and a new area – but I haven’t missed the old house as much as I thought and although I miss people I’m happy with the memories my life has given me.

  7. Truly enjoyed this post Rachel, well done. Expat families often tend to be closer in large part due to the disruption of moving/adjusting/settling in, needing to rely on each other in some ways more than non-moving families. I’ve written about how home for me is the people, not the physical structure, and you’ve captured that sentiment beautifully.

  8. We kept our house in Canada over the 13 year span we were away and rented it out. It’s only now on reflection that I realize what a talisman it was for us, particularly for our son, who was always horrified if we said “I wonder if we should sell …” every time the property manager emailed with news of another disaster. I guess for us, making that first move from the UK to Canada many, many years ago, firmly established Canada as our ultimate home, no matter where we travelled and this house just embodied that for us. Or maybe it’s because both of us are born under the sign of Cancer and we need to have that shell to crawl back into 🙂

  9. Really enjoyed reading this blog, and although we haven’t owned a house at “home” for probably 9 years now could still relate to all you said and appreciate you reminding us to focus on all the good and posiive things in our lives. As always, beautifully put, you really do have a wonderful way with words Rachel. So glad you and the rest of the Yates family moved to our little patch of the world and entered out lives, love you all.

  10. A lovely, eloquent post, leaving me teary eyed and touched. The Yates family tribute on the tree is FANTASTIC! I plan to share it with my friends who have nomadic tendencies….

  11. Lovely sentiments, well said, and a lesson in acceptance and optimism. Tea soon in Contra Costa County, home for now?

  12. Hi Rachel- you are of course always welcome at our place too- anytime. We even have a little more room these days! Glad you got everything sorted over here- sorry we didn’t get to see you this time – but I know you were on a mission to get things done. Lots of love to you all xx

  13. Bravo Rachel, yet another apposite blog. You are bringing such a huge amount to the nomadic community, expatriate and those relocating within their passport countries. Lucky for FIGT you showed up at the conference this year! X

  14. Hope it’s working out well as we speak. I’m glad to know that letting go is easier than you might expect. We have just finished an overhaul of our place back home – I couldn’t bear to part with it. I do hope we don’t come to view it as a talisman.

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