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Expat self-awareness: two homes, two identities?

When you move abroad and begin to make a new home, your sense of identity can become confused. With traditional notions of home sitting firmly on your experiences in your origin country, feeling at home somewhere new can feel unsettling. And often having two (or more) places to call home can also feel like you have two different identities. We look how a new home impacts self-identity for expats.

What does home mean to your sense of self?

Traditional notions of home have always been tied to our heritage, where we grew up, and our national country. This sense of home has been long associated with a sense of pride and an identity as a citizen of that nation.

Home can also mean the place where your family and friends are, where you grew up and your culture. Our sense of home and our identity in this way is so intrinsically tied that it can seem daunting moving away from it. Many of us identify ourselves as a person belonging to a specific place or country. This idea forms a central pillar of our identity. But as the world has become more global and more and more of us move countries for work, love or adventure, the sense of home, and therefore how we identify, is changing.

Where are you from?

Before the world was everybody’s oyster, ‘home’ was an identity and a place. It was an all-encompassing way of describing where you came from and who you were. And often those who left their country and moved abroad were left in conflict about their self-identity.

As the world has become more and more global, and international moves have become part of the fabric of modern life, these feelings are changing. Less and less people are identifying just as a person of one country or cultural origin. These changes impact international travellers and expats the most, with many expats identifying as citizens of the world rather than one specific place.

Do you change after a move abroad?

Many of us feel that we change after a move abroad. And this change can make it feel like not only do you have two homes, but two personalities or identities. The reality is that along with a culture and destination change, a new start allows us to make friends and experience life in a completely new way.

Your social relationships and connections are created and forged in new ways, with many expats finding their new friendship group more diverse than ever before. This opens you up to trying and learning new things too. And as you become more embedded in the culture of your new home, your behaviour will naturally change. But more surprisingly, so may your outlook on things.

It’s important to remember that these changes will follow you on visits back to your original home country. Many expats find that they feel less connected to the culture of their original home after time away. This dual identity can be confusing, but it’s all part of becoming a truly global citizen.

Who are ‘you’ in your new home?

Studies into expat self-identity have shown that the global network of people moving between and living in multiple countries is creating more creative, less biased and highly successful global citizens. The changes, culture shock and deeper understanding of other places can open your eyes to new ways of doing things and harness your collaborative processes in completely new ways. And you may feel more confident and capable than ever before, having learnt to thrive in a completely new culture and country, perhaps completely on your own.

And despite all these changes, many expats actually report having a stronger sense of self thanks to their international moves. The multiple ‘homes’ and exposure to new people and cultures can also increase self-awareness, to the point of helping you make better decisions, especially at work. these benefits are also true for children growing up in a new home country. Many expat parents find that the experience actually increased their child’s confidence and self-awareness.

Home is where the expat is!

For the group of modern global citizens who are making new homes in foreign countries, home is quite literally where their heart is. Instead of a more old-fashioned view of a fixed and permanent origin home, many now consider ‘home’ as a transient idea, dependent on where their travels take them. Cultural identity, as it has been understood, is arguably becoming an outdated concept in a world where so many of us grow up in or move to many different countries and places.

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