When you don’t belong in your passport country

For those living overseas, holiday time is quite often a chance to return to their passport countries to visit friends and family. But for TCK’s these visits are bitter-sweet.

It’s always wonderful to see loved ones, it’s great to taste foods you haven’t eaten in a long time and there is always time for some trips out, fun activities and exploring.

However, after the first few days of excitement have worn off, you begin to realise that though you are having a wonderful time and you are ecstatic to be there, there is a feeling of foreigness, of not fitting in, of being out-of-place, even though your passport declares you belong there.

In a way, the feeling of being the odd one out is always in the back of your mind, whichever country you’re in, popping up every now and then when triggered by a particular event.

You see, you expect to feel foreign in your host country. You’re used to others pointing out the differences, even if in some cases these differences are minor or very subtle. You know that however well you’ve adapted to your host culture you’ll only ever ‘almost’ belong.

Still, most people don’t really expect to feel foreign in what is officially ‘their country’. But TCK’s often do. Because having grown up in a country other than the one marked on their passport, “home” is more likely to be where they live and not where their parents originally come from.

So going to your passport country for the holidays often feels more like “going abroad” than “going home”, and yet it’s more complex than that. Because there is a certain familiarity to your passport country. There are people and places and things there that you truly miss, that you know well and love.

It’s not like being a tourist, where you expect things to be foreign, new and unfamiliar. You know your passport culture quite well, what’s expected, how you’re supposed to behave, what the unwritten rules are… When you’re a tourist, you often miss those; you’re more concentrated on enjoying the experience, the monuments, museums and sights.

Going to your passport country for the summer holidays has the familiarity of a well-known culture and the foreigness of a country that has changed immensely while your parents weren’t looking.

I went to England this summer, had a fabulous time and enjoyed the trip. But there were a couple of moments when the distance between my host country and my passport country felt a lot further apart than usual.

Most of what I know about England was learnt from my parents. I was too young when we left to remember much about it. What was home for them has changed since then and we have changed also in the process.

I think the hardest part is that most people you visit on the trips to your passport country don’t realise this. Because on the outside you fit right in. In fact, you look perfectly local. You behave -at least most of the time- according to social convention and the language is certainly no problem. But you feel homesick for a place that those around you haven’t experienced and that, despite the difficulties your host culture might present on occasions, you love deeply and miss greatly.

They don’t understand why you would want to stay “abroad”. Or why you haven’t returned permanently yet. “Haven’t you stayed “out there” long enough?” they seem to ask. “I mean, why would anyone go to Spain for more than a beach holiday?”.

They just don’t get it. It makes me want to shout, “SPAIN IS SO MUCH MORE THAN SUN AND SEA!”. I’m sure they’d hear me, but I’m still not sure they’d listen.

It’s not that I don’t love the UK. I do. I’m sure I could even make it home. In fact I may yet end up living there “permanently”. And after some adjustment, as every international move requires, probably quite happily. But that’s beside the point.

My life at the moment is here in Spain. It has been for the past 20 years. Though I miss my relatives, custard creams and National Trust properties, among other things, Spain is home. And I sometimes wish those “back home” in my passport country could understand that, or at least try.

The flip side is I also miss my passport country when I’m here. Coming back from this trip was one of the hardest so far. I felt genuinely homesick for a couple of days sensing I’d left a lot more behind on this trip than on any previous occasion.

Making sense of this multiple belonging is part of what it means to be a TCK. In the end, the TCK lives between worlds. Loving where they’re at and missing where they’re not.

I’ll be sharing more about this trip over the coming days but in the meantime you can ckeck out some of the photos I took during my travels on Instagram.

Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Where do you feel you belong or don’t belong? What is your experience when visiting your passport country? Let me know in the comments!

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