When did you realise you weren't going home?

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There comes a point for most of expats when they realise that they’re not going home. I don’t know when it happened for me, but there must have been a point when I decided that I would spend most of the rest of my life outside of my home country. What is the difference between someone who travels and then returns home compared with someone who simply leaves, never to return?

This has been bothering me a little recently because I have a lot of friends in the UK who have traveled for extended periods, often multiple times, and I’ve always expected them to enjoy themselves so much that they don’t want to return home. But they do. They always return home and they always go back to how things were before they traveled.

As an expat, I don’t want to return to my home country because I see no reason to. I can work in any country I want and study if I need to. Although I am proud to be British, I’m not so attached to my place of birth that I want to stay there.

I didn’t always think this way, however. About four years ago, I had 800 pounds left of my overdraft and I was living in a house without paying any rent thanks to a dippy landlord who I don’t think ever realized I lived there. I planned to fly to Thailand and stay for as long as 800 pounds would last me, which I predicted would be about one month.

This was also the time of my life when I was kind of reckless. It took one moment of clarity to realize that I couldn’t be a student forever. I started working 60-hour weeks and saved some money. I then formulated my seven-month traveling plan, still intending to return home, but keeping in the back of my mind the thought that I might never go back. I told a few people that I might not be coming back and they just laughed at the idea. Everybody expected that I would return.

For several months after I arrived in Thailand, I sent mass emails back home, detailing my life and the things I had been up to. I hate receiving this type of email and I rarely read them, no matter whom they are from, but I wrote my own nonetheless. The number of people who replied to these emails gradually decreased over time and I eventually realized that the emails were pointless, even for me.

I think the moment I decided to stop sending those emails was the moment I knew I would not be going back. It’s a strange feeling, being out here while most of the people you grew up with are so far away. You lose touch with people and you start to wonder if they even remember you. I’m still in contact with people from the UK, but there are some whom you can’t help but drift apart from.

So here’s to life as an expat.

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9 thoughts on “When did you realise you weren't going home?

  1. it's tough matt when you realise that you have moved on. When you go away, you feel that you change more than your friends at home. Basically you do change and these people are not around to see it.

    Mug Li

  2. The one major issue that made me come back to live was the fact that I could not develop any meaninful relationships while I lived in Thailand (with exception to my husband who I met there). I had friends in Thailand, but nobody who I would consider to be close. I've heard it's quite different for women expats and their experiences as expats, and for the most part it's mostly the guys who stay abroad. But when I had tried the first time to come back home, all I did was yearn to go back and I did for several more years. If I had not met my husband who wanted to come back to the US, I'd likely still be in Thailand or in some other country.

  3. If I had to pinpoint a moment of realisation, it would probably be a few days after I bought a washing machine for my apartment. Something about that commitment to laundry solidified things in my mind!

    My situation is pretty much the same as yours. I keep in touch with some close friends in the UK sporadically via Facebook but people stopped asking me 'when are you coming back?' a long time ago.

    With regards to Thailand, something that bugs me is that no matter how much I explain to Thai people that I have moved here permanently with no plans to go back to the UK, they just cannot grasp this concept. Just today I was talking with a friend at work about having children (a long way off!!) and she said "oh but you'll be in England by then." Ermm… no I won't. At the risk of going off-topic, I guess it goes back to the inescapable labelling of being a 'farang' – or in other words a foreigner who has a home elsewhere and must therefore be a temporary visitor.

  4. Interesting conversation here. I actually WENT home after spending 5 years in Thailand in the mid 90s. I left about 6 months after the 97 crisis and returned to the States to go back to school. Now, I have a hankering to return after many years back in the States, but to do so would mean saying goodbye to the career I've nurtured the past few years and – sadly, likely – financial ruin. I wonder, how many expats over there are planning for retirement and other long term financial needs? I have a dear friend who has been living there for about 13-14 years now, is married, has a great wife, etc., but has no funds for retirement, let alone any emergency expenses (medical care, etc.). This lack of long term financial security is the biggest barrier keeping me from returning.

  5. I left the US 14 years ago. I gave my car keys to my sister the day I left and told her to wait 90 days, and if I wasn't back by then, sell my car because I'd never be back.

    So my answer to the question in your blog is this: I knew 14 days after I left the US that I wasn't going home. Fourteen years later and I still know I'll never live permanently in the US again.

    But I haven't been in Thailand the entire time. I moved here three years ago.

    The statement that caught my attention was this comment:
    "something that bugs me is that no matter how much I explain to Thai people that I have moved here permanently with no plans to go back…, they just cannot grasp this concept."

    This is consistent with my experience. I simply cannot find a way to explain to Thai people that THIS is my home. They refuse to understand the idea that my home is where I am, not where I was. They can't get their head around the idea that I'm never going back.

  6. Realized I want going home when I first went to Uni, since then have lived and worked all over the globe and now more than happy to call Thailand home.

    I enjoy going back to my home country for a holiday, but thats about it.

  7. For me, it was when I brought all my old photos out of storage in my friend's basement and back to Thailand with me. It wasn't like "BOING!" suddenly I'm staying in Thailand forever, but more of a slowly-growing case against moving back. One day, not sure when, I just started not thinking about it.

    But the thing that always keeps me on edge is that no matter how 'official' you are, how many years you've had your work permit, how good your job is… you're never, never going to be considered Thai. You will always be called 'farang'. I love Thailand and love living here, but there's no insurance against your entire Thai life crumbling overnight due to some overlooked detail, some bureaucratic mistake, political insurrection, etc. Highly unlikely, but still… This is Thailand.

  8. Thai people don't understand farangs living here because when I go abroad, I always expect to come "home". Even people who have emigrated (and received citizenship status) still call Thailand "home". They've earned their money but will still retire back here.

    Its probably as difficult to explain to the farang what "home" is to a Thai. I understand and welcome farangs who want to live here, but for me, no matter where I go I will have to return home.

  9. i remember the moment clearly. i just emerged from the jetway into the old BKK airport. felt the warmth, smelled the smell and felt like i just had a hit off some kind of drug. BAM! it was good. my thought was "that's it, i want to live here". that's when thailand became "home" and USA became where i work, so i can go back home. i now have a thai wife, mother-in-law, step-daughter, and two houses to care for there. i dont' have an apartment in the states. i'm couch surfing between my relatives, and will soon live in my van. i'm only here to work, send money home, and get enough to live in thailand for as long as i can. if i could make decent money in thailand, i'd never come back to the states again.

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