Thinking of home

With less than two weeks to go until my Italy trip, it suddenly struck me. The guilt feeling. That little voice inside your head asking you why you are using a few of your precious holidays to go travel a foreign country, all on your own. The answer is very easy of course:  with the exception of one weekend in Milan, I have never been to Italy. And on the list of cities to see before you die, Venice and Florence are ranked really high. That should have been reason enough to go to Italy, but I am an expat. That means that voice in my head is forever present.

Being an expat means that travelling is always a balance act. It means that if I decide to go on holidays to Italy, this is a week I can’t spend at home. If I decide to go out and discover the world, it means that I’m going to miss another birthday, wedding or PhD defense. If I pick Florence, it means I’m not going to see my family and friends for two or three more months, unless they decide to come to Hamburg in the meantime.
 With limited leave days, it means that tough decisions will always have to be made. The birthday or the PhD defense? The PhD defense or the wedding? And if the PhD defense or the wedding, whose PhD defense or wedding? Will I pick my cousin’s wedding or my friend’s? And if you’re particularly popular: the wedding of which cousin or which friend? Unlike people who work in the same country as they were born in, I need my leave days for two things: to go back home and to explore the world. And even though I would love to do both, it often simply isn’t possible as often and as long as I’d like to.

It is more than just a guilt feeling though. It is also a certain sadness. I’ve been home three times since I moved to Hamburg some 1.5 years ago. That is more than many who live far away from home, but considerably less than others whose hometowns are equally far away. Mentally, I feel so far from home, as it feels as too far to do for just a weekend. And most of the time I’m relatively okay with that, but these days it makes me sad. It has been three months now that I was last home, and even though the weather improves and Hamburg looks friendlier day by day, I find myself thinking about home a lot. I should be happier now winter is over, not sadder. The birthdays I missed, the PhD defenses I missed, the weddings I missed. The big things, but also the small things. On another uneventful weekend day or evening, I find myself thinking about how my friends and I used to get together in Leiden, cook dinner or bake cakes, drink tea and watch movies. This is what I have sacrificed to be here, and please friends, know that I miss it. I miss it more than you could ever imagine. Is this homesickness? I don’t know really.

When I got offered the job here in Hamburg, somebody told me that I could either choose mediocracy in Leiden or excitement in Hamburg. He was wrong. There is nothing mediocre about life in Leiden, or nothing particularly exciting about Hamburg. People tell you it’s super amazing to live abroad, and sometimes it is. But the end of the day, I work the same 9 to 5 job as I would have had back home, only at a slightly more exciting company and with slightly more exciting colleagues. But unless you sell all your stuff, go freelance and travel the world, working abroad isn’t really much different from working back home, at least not in the case of Germany. And I keep wondering, is this really worth it? I’m not yet convinced that the answer is no, so I’m going to hang in here for a while longer. As long as the good things outbalance the bad, I will stay. As long as these moments of melancholia will pass, I will stay. But know that I miss you. Even if I don’t let you know enough.

Photo: my most beloved Leiden.


9 thoughts on “Thinking of home

  1. It is hard, dealing with the guilt and the longing, even when sometimes it’s out of your hands completely. I’ve only been back to the US once in almost nine years, since moving first to the Netherlands and now Italy. The costs are the biggest prohibitor for me, as I do work freelance. But working freelance, I don’t always make huge, consistent salaries. That said, I (and my friends in the US) were spread out even before I moved, so I’d already adjusted to not seeing people often. Still, sometimes I do wish I could go back and fall into those easy, long-term friendships.

    Enjoy your trip to Italy! I can’t help but also recommend a stop in Bologna if you get the chance. It’s a beautiful city and the food is amazing. 🙂


  2. The thing about living abroad is that it challenges you in many ways and although I work in the Netherlands and it’s great; I’m still working a 9-5. For me, the difference is learning about another culture and having a different home-base for traveling. Germany gives you the ability to see more of Germany than if you visited even 10 times. 🙂


    • Very true! One of the main reasons I like living abroad so much is that I get to see more of northern Germany than the average tourist, and that I get to see it at a more leisurely pace. No rush to see everything Hamburg has to offer in just a weekend, but taking your time to enjoy each and every sight!


  3. This is so familiar to me. I’ve also been in Germany for 1,5 years now and only visited my home country (Ukraine) one time. For my next holiday, I am flying to New York but I am feeling so guilty every time I talk to my parents. They keep asking when I will come to visit and I am simply afraid to say I choose to go to the US instead of visiting them 😦 I really want to see them but need to use this chance to travel now while I am in Germany, because it will be not so easy anymore when I am back to live home.


  4. Home is home. I love traveling so much, but I always miss home. And I totally agree with you, I don’t think there is a much difference between working in your home country and working abroad as long you are doing the same thing. I believe we all have to pursue our dreams. Hope you find the answers you are looking for very soon! Good luck!


  5. I guess it depends on how much flexibility you get at work and what kind of job you are doing. I’ve had the same for the first year here, but then managed to agree with my employer that once or twice a year I just work from home for a week, when most of my job can happen remotely and I don’t need to be onsite. That gives me a whole week of evenings with my friends and family and two weekends! If you have at least some chances of asking your employer for such an option it’s definitely worth it 🙂


  6. I love this post – it’s so honest. I’ve lived abroad for almost 4 years and I’ve been home about 4 times, even though it’s just a two hour flight away… I travel a lot more to other places than home, but I don’t feel guilty about it. My friends and family also use their holidays to go somewhere else instead of visiting me. That’s just how it goes. What makes me 100% sure that it was the best decision to move abroad is the feeling my new home town gives me – I truly feel at home here! And I even get homesick when I’m away for too long – even when I’m back in the place I was born 🙂


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