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True Story: An Expat’s Struggle With Feeling Like An Outsider When Visiting Home

By Finder blogger: Andrea McKenna


I love visiting home. Well, that’s not totally true. I love the idea of it.

I love the idea that we get to see Chicago and Connecticut and sometimes Florida and eat, drink and be merry with all our relatives and friends in presumably good North American weather.

More on The Finder:
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Expectations versus reality

But that’s not always how it goes.

Friends and family often are busy with their own lives: Kids get sick. They have to work. Plans are already set with local friends. It’s Blackhawks’ playoffs. The bathroom needs to be painted. Etc…

After being gone for nearly five years, it gets a bit old to say, “Hey, we’re in town, are you guys free?”  Sometimes, I feel like nobody cares anymore. We’re gone. Out of sight, out of mind.

I know I definitely lost one of my best friends because of this cold, hard fact. And then we go months, if not years, of seeing some friends. It hurts a bit, but this is the reality. If we’re lucky, we have plans on the books weeks in advance with people who can spare the time. If we’re unlucky, we stay in our hotel room and go out on our own for steaks, lobster or crab bisque, respectively, depending on which state we’re in.

For myself, I usually try to arrange a dinner with my rugby friends. I throw an invite out there and enjoy seeing whoever can make it. This seems like a little thing, but it really means the world to me when those ladies show up, even if it means having to come all the way downtown.

I feel at home. I miss my friends and am so glad to see them.

Bears, Sox, Bulls, Hawks, North Avenue Beach, Chicago street fairs, Chistmaskindle Market, Halloween parties, Blessing of the Fleet, Mystic St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Lantern Light Tours (do they still do those in Mystic?)… I think sometimes, “Why the hell do I live in Southeast Asia? I am missing so much!”

Another reality, at least early on in our expat experience, is trying to see EVERYONE while we are home.

I have gone home (with a newborn) for 6 weeks at a time, flying cross-country, just to see relatives and friends. 

Again, this gets old even on our end and we rarely do this anymore. It is overwhelming and takes too much out of us now.

While it seems upsetting that many people have moved on without us, I think it’s fair to say at least family will make the time to see us.

However, it’s not always the way we want it to go. I sure wish sometimes they would take a few vacation days to spend time with us. But I guess that’s just not realistic.


Keeping it in perspective

After talking with lots of expat friends about this “home and away” issue, I would say the best advice is to lower your expectations of what your visit will be like.

I’m all about daydreaming, but the reality is you just can’t do it all and see everyone on every home leave trip. Along with killer jet lag for me and my family, we’ve lessened the planning to at least one weekend where we see ONE group of friends. Usually that involves some kind of rugby or other sporting event. And everything else is just a bonus.

And we don’t let everyone know we’re home unless they ask. That keeps their expectations of us in perspective too. We just can’t fly all over the U.S. just because we are in America for a visit.

Feeling like an outsider while visiting home is no fun. Changing perspectives is key: I just think of it as, see you when we see you and let’s have fun while we are here.

And we still think about all our friends and family even while we are in Singapore. Our hearts are still at home even when we are away.  


About Andrea McKenna

image: E. Chiau

Andrea McKenna Brankin is journalist and author from the United States who lives a full life with bipolar disorder. Her book, Bipolar Phoenix, is awaiting a publishing contract. She is also currently a volunteer at the DaySpring Residential Treatment Centre for teen girls in Singapore, providing befriending-family support, therapeutic writing and rugby coaching.


Related articles:

True Story: Dealing With Loneliness As An Expat In Singapore

True Story: What Being A Trailing Expat Wife In Singapore Taught Me About Confidence

20 Reasons To Love Living In Singapore, No Matter Where You’re From


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