The double life: 5 things expats experience when going ‘home’ for the holidays

You’ve been counting down for weeks — holidays are getting closer, and so is your visit home! Inside, a well of feelings is coming up: stress from having to organise everything; excitement for seeing people you’ve only talked to on the phone for months; and nostalgia because if you’re coming home for, say, Christmas, then you wonder if you’ll still experience and enjoy all of your old traditions.

But one thing you may not realise is that, when you get home, it isn’t really ‘home’ anymore. After all, what’s home for you?

For me, it is the place where I can relax. It’s where I am in control, where I can’t be bored because I’ve created an environment and a network that works for me. It’s where I’m leading the life, and not depending on others to lead it.

So when I get ‘home’ (or better, where I was raised), I notice a few things:

I missed some people so much…

It’s so easy to get caught up in your daily life abroad that you actually don’t realise the chemistry you just have with some people, and the connection you miss by not being there. Luckily, with said people, it’s as if no time has passed. Sure, there’s a lot of catching up to do, but that connection is still there.

…and other people are just filler

Everybody has some acquaintances they hang out with because they’re friends of friends, or because you’re in your same group of people, or because you’re somehow obliged.

When you come back to visit, though, your time is limited, and you’ve got to see so many relatives and friends that you have to prioritise! Essentially, cut out the niceties — and just see the people you really care about!

Downtime is precious

This is not a holiday. Sure, you’re not working, but you’re not visiting an exciting new place either. In fact, you’re possibly experiencing A LOT of pressure from all the commitments you have. So make sure you have some quiet too, especially if you’ve gotten used to living alone and suddenly are surrounded by people 24/7.

Life here goes on, with or without you!

Everyone’s happy at the idea of you being back but that doesn’t mean they have to, or will put life on hold for you. This can come as a hard realisation if you try to meet with people who already have plans of their own, work, or family obligations.

“But I’ve travelled all this way and taken days off! Can’t they meet me halfway?”

Yes, and you should make them understand that; but however tough a pill it is to swallow, you’re the one who left! So, you can’t expect everyone else to put their life on hold for the time you’re back in the same way that you’ve put your life abroad on hold. That was your choice and not theirs.

My advice is: make your availability known in advance, try to plan few big get-togethers, and confirm them well before your arrival. Don’t take it personally if some of these fall through, especially if you’re from a culture where planning isn’t as high a priority as in the Netherlands!

The Netherlands is your home too!

After a few days, you’ll start missing the Netherlands too. Who would’ve thought, huh? Of course, you have a whole other life there, and the fact that you probably had to build it all by yourself makes it all the more ‘lived’ and yours, in a way.

You’re kind of caught between two worlds, the familiarity of your old home and the independence of your new one!

It isn’t always great, I’ll give you that, but you can also see it as getting the best of both. And luckily, at least for me, these two worlds aren’t too far apart!

photo-two-people-on-bikes-turning-a-corrner-by-a-bridge-in-amsterdam
Trust me, you’re gonna miss this. Image: Jorge Royan/Wikimedia Commons/CC3.0

What do you experience when returning home as an expat? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image: Chait Goli/Pexels

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in December 2018, and was fully updated in August 2021 for your reading pleasure.

Aurora Signorazzi
Aurora comes from the majestic Italian capital, and is working on her PhD in virology at the University of Groningen. She has been living in the Netherlands for four years and is by now familiar with many Dutch habits... But still finds plenty of reasons to be pleasantly amazed (most of the time) by this industrious country and its brutally honest inhabitants!

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