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Defining {Home} When You’re an Expat

“Home is not where you live, but where they understand you”

~ Christian Morganstern quotes

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”

~ Matsuo Basho

I’ve been grappling with the concept of home from the moment I stepped on the plane earlier this month. When people ask, “where are you going?” Do I say, “Oh, we’re going home!” But are we really going home? After a few days at my mom’s house MarocBaba asked how it was and I definitively told him, “this doesn’t feel like home anymore.” Then last weekend as we stayed near where I grew up I instantly found comfort in the forest. Not a single place just being surrounded by towering trees as far as I could see.

So what is it, where is it? 

Earlier this week I happened to go through some notes I have written down in a notebook I always carry. I am always writing but rarely go back to them. When I came across this entry from October of last year, I knew I’d found my answer. Here’s what I had written;

Oh, yes we’ve been to Morocco. It seemed the further south you went the more, what’s the word…restrictive it became.”

On a rainy morning as I sat at Barjas airport in Madrid an elderly American man took up the seat next to me. We started talking over the muffled announcement of an Iberia clerk. He had asked me if I was looking forward to “going home”. I had a particularly hard time answering as it became precariously real to me that where I was going wasn’t really home. I had no address. I wasn’t even a resident at that point. I was visiting. My home now was in Morocco.

“Yes, it’s true, it’s more conservative in Marrakesh in some ways.” I stammered out.

“We went to a restaurant but the only people there were a few men so we went somewhere more comfortable. You know we raised our daughters to be just as good as our sons. We thought it was so strange that women weren’t outside.”

I sat puzzled at his analysis. What was he saying? I have rarely felt restricted in Morocco – aside from the language barrier. Women were everywhere! Was he talking about a different place? I felt my re-entry to the Western world was even more strained. Had I forgotten in such a short time how people perceived the Muslim world – which my husband and I had regularly joked Morocco was far from? Hadn’t they seen the women who were running shops and businesses? Or those running their kids back and forth to school? Or the schools themselves run and staffed by women? The women driving motorcycles all over the city?

There’s a problem I realized in the West, that I think boils down to appearances. I hesitate to say West because I’ve found the attitudes of Europeans is not the same as Americans. Yes, it’s true in Morocco many women wear hijab and traditional djallabas but it has little correlation to their standing in society or opportunities. I struggled to interject this into the conversation, that I didn’t feel like I was somehow not as good as men by my experiences living in Morocco. I just couldn’t put all the pieces together fast enough to explain to them. To defend my new home.

It was on that overcast Thursday that I realized I really had created a new home. I felt that strong sense of place, the desire to defend, and to share my place. Good or bad, it was our home.

That was it.  That was my answer. 

MarocBaba told me as I struggled at the start of our stay, “Home is wherever we’re all together. Maybe it’s here now, maybe it’s there later, maybe it’s somewhere we haven’t discovered yet. The world is our home.”

Yes, I like the sound of that.

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Thursday 30th of October 2014

Home is a tough one. I lived in Spain when I was younger, but am now back to living in the US. While I was abroad I missed "home" every single day and couldn't wait to get "back". Now that I'm "back" I'm homesick for Spain every day. Go figure. I love how you are sharing your mental process of working through it. What a challenge to have to defend your new home to your old home. It truly does give you a chance to see both worlds from a different set of eyes… It's always the hardest when you know someone is wrong due to being uninformed, but educating them is sometimes more difficult that suffering through their misinformation...

Amanda Mouttaki

Friday 31st of October 2014

Thanks for reading and your kind words. It's always reassuring to hear from others who have experienced similar things.

Camping in Upper Michigan

Friday 15th of August 2014

[…] other than show up so I really was able to just enjoy it. If you read my post a few weeks ago about defining home as an expat then you’ll know I’m struggling with what that means right now. One feeling I […]

Rebecca White Body

Thursday 7th of August 2014

Your insight about "home" is both profound and relevant. I'm glad you've been able to make Osseo your home this summer--however temporarily--so that Sage and I could get the chance to know you and your boys!


Sunday 3rd of August 2014

Amanda... love reading your thoughts about this... "home." I haven't lived outside of the US, but my husband's training & job led us to 4 different states within the US. I struggled so much, feeling like I was going where he was comfortable as he had support and made friends at his training/job. My insides were telling me to rebel in a sense and refuse to make any of these places home because it took work to get settled. I had the hardest time feeling like any of it was "home." to me. My kids and husband always did better than I during these times. Now, that I look back, I wish I would have embraced the "home is wherever we're all together" statement and had really focused on not yearning for something different. Through all of that learning and relationship building, we feel like we are a tighter family and welcome stepping out of our comfort zones when we get the chance. I moved back to what I thought was home to me .... wasn't until I finally got this wish that I realized how true MarocBaba's statement really is. Looking forward to meeting you in October... we can chit chat more then. Enjoy the rest of your travels!


Wednesday 30th of July 2014

I love MarocBabas comment. The same holds true in our "home". Where ever we are, together, that is home.