One of the most frequent topics that I hear from clients is that they have been living in their new location for a few years, yet they still don’t feel “at home.”
Feeling at home is a really interesting topic, because not only is it very personal and meaningful, but because “home” can mean so many different things.
Objectively, home is a place, but it’s also a feeling. Home is where we belong. It’s where we are part of a community that we know and where we are known. It’s a stark contrast to the experience of moving to a brand-new place- where we literally know no one and no one knows us. Rather than feeling known, we may feel invisible or completely anonymous.
Home is also a place where we have a role in the community. Where we contribute something and make a difference to the people in our lives either as a friend as a daughter or son, a sibling, a colleague, a professional, a neighbor. It’s a place where we feel valuable and valued. A place where we have a sense of purpose, and feel we are making a meaningful contribution in some way.
Feeling at home in the context of a particular place is another aspect of this topic. We usually consider home to be a place we feel comfortable, familiar with, and have a fondness for. That kind of connection with a place can take years to build, as we gradually accumulate experiences and memories in this new landscape. This topic is covered in depth in the wonderful book, This is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick. The concept of home as place, as people, and as a feeling, is also discussed in one of my favorite books about relocation: A Great Move, by Katia Vlachos.
If you don’t feel at home, it can be helpful to examine what that means for you.
Is it a lack of familiarity with the place itself, the culture, and the landscape?
Is it a feeling of not belonging; not feeling known?
Is it not feeling comfortable authentically expressing yourself in this place?
Some combination of these? Or something else?
For many of the clients I’ve worked with, they’ve discovered that feeling at home is about learning how to be themselves in their new environment. It sometimes means finding a few trusted friends that they feel seen and understood with. Sometimes it’s figuring out how to express themselves or their culture authentically in their new context. And sometimes it’s finding ways to be involved in hobbies and activities that they are passionate about, or finding a way to contribute meaningfully to their community.
There are many layers to feeling “at home” in a new place, but I think that the powerful psychological impact of these aspects makes them incredibly important first steps. In time, as we make deeper relationships, expand our network of connections, form positive memories, get involved in local activities and become more integrated in the life of the local community, our new place will begin to feel more and more like “home”.
This sense of home we get in a new place doesn’t replace or even attempt to replicate the original “home” that we come from, but rather it can be an additional place that we feel “at home.” In my first experiences living abroad, my inner feeling of being a foreigner was at the forefront. But as I spend more and more years living out of my country of origin, I have started to feel that the world is my home. I’ve developed a sense of home in new places and I know that it’s possible to do so again. There’s more than one place I can feel “at home” and that’s a wonderful position to be in.
What about you?
To what extent do you feel “at home” in your new place?
This is Where You Belong, by Melody Warnick
A Great Move: Surviving and Thriving in your Expat Assignment, by Katia Vlachos
Shannon Jones, founder of Thriving Relocation, works with individuals and families around the world to build thriving lives in new places. Originally from California, she has lived in Australia, Switzerland, England and several locations in the United States. She's a certified life coach, relocation advisor, trained facilitator of Adapt & Succeed Abroad, and a member of Expat Coach Coalition and Families in Global Transition.