Saturday, 15 November 2014

Where is Home?

Home: is it here?
In the film L'Auberge espagnol, which tells the story of an international group of students on the EU study-abroad programme, there is a wonderfully true-to-life part of the opening scenes where the main character is waiting at the airport with tears running down on his face and another sympathetic passenger takes one look at him and simply asks, "Erasmus?" At the end of the film, when the academic year is at an end, the exact same scene is repeated, except that this time the character is not setting of for foreign lands, he's returning "home" to France.

In contrast is the experience of passengers arriving on international flights at East Midlands Airport in England. Rather than the messages you see in most airports welcoming travellers from elsewhere and generally trying to convince them of just how wonderful the local area is, the signs at East Midlands simply read "It's good to be home." While it is undoubtedly true that more people leave the East Midlands to visit Paris than the other way round (the fact that the staff on the plane only speak English and you can only buy your in-flight snacks in pounds sterling are also clear testaments to this), it made me laugh to see how clearly those signs were aimed at the stereotypical Brit who has seen the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night or eaten paella on the beach in Spain but is now just relieved to be back in a civilised country where he or she can be sure of getting a decent cup of tea.

These two snapshots for me sum up the difference between "home" for an expat or immigrant and "home" for someone who has never lived somewhere else. Because "home" isn't just a geographical location; it's the place or places that have shaped us in a positive way and made us the people that we are. As a result, when we arrive we feel joy at the familiarity of the place (which can also be a familiar excitement), and when we leave, we have the sense of leaving a little piece of ourselves behind.

It takes time to feel comfortable with that shaping. I believe that, along with loneliness and missing friends and family, fear of how expatriation might change us is a major part of homesickness. At the beginning, we'd rather avoid all those difficult processes and stay the way we were before. But slowly the changes settle down inside us and we realise that they have become part of who we are.

So I wouldn't exactly say that home is where the heart is. It's more the places that have entered into your heart, the places which you have allowed to change you, and the places that bring a lump into your throat when you leave and when you arrive.

... Or here?
Thanks to Holly for inspiring this post via another Expat Revelations series.You can find links to more posts on the same subject over at


  1. Ah, you made me homesick for real now! I have seen that sign at East Mids Airport so many times. I came from Castle Donington, the village next door to that airport. I would ride my pony up and down the field next door to the runway (fab galloping ground) and I could see planes passing over head when I lay asleep at night through my skylight when I lived in Kegworth. Welcome home. How poignant a message. I had never thought about it, but you are so right - home can be a million places xxx

  2. I love the second picture :-) Is that you? Do I sound like a creepy stalker? ;-)

    "Home" for me is never static. It can be Canada, it can be France, it depends who I'm talking to and it depends on the context. On the day, ever!

    1. No, you don't sound like a creepy stalker, but it's not me, so even if you were, it wouldn't have got you very far!

      It's true that home does also depend on who you're talking to - I hadn't thought of that.

  3. I still consider my childhood home as home. Our place in Lille is also home. And when visiting J's parents, that is also home. Home is where you're comfortable and where you can be yourself.

    Great post!