I had the joy and privilege this past Saturday of being able to attend the annual Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference, held in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia. As many other attendees noted, it was a beautiful thing to spend time with others—complete strangers from all over the world—with whom I could immediately connect because of our similar cross-cultural backgrounds and experiences. I met other women who were trying to adjust, and help their families adjust, to life back in their “home” country after living abroad (check out this post about repatriation written by a new friend I met at the conference). We commiserated about the feeling of being “hidden immigrants”—looking like we belonged in our passport country, but feeling so alien inside. We shared tender stories of seeing our children navigate their own inner “foreignness” among peers who have no clue.
The conference theme was “Finding Home: Amidst Global Change.” It was fascinating to listen to international business people, foreign service personnel, NGO workers, missionaries and grown-up missionary kids (MKs), international educators, mental health professionals, writers and others struggle together with the concept of “home.” What does “home” even mean? Is it possible to find “home” when you move over and over again? What if “home” has nothing to do with our passport country? Can we create a “home” for ourselves even if we are globally mobile? What effects does that mobility have on us? On our children?
The beautiful thing to witness was how gentle and gracious everyone was with with each other’s stories. In myriad ways, we were able to say to one another, “Your story matters. Your losses and triumphs matter.” There was an intense focus on supporting one another, on helping different groups of people to navigate global mobility in healthy ways, and on making sure no one was left alone.
I was particularly struck by one question that a presenter said is important to ask children (or adults) who are struggling because of a big move, or as a result of frequent moves. The question is, What did you leave behind?
So, I’d like to wrap this up by asking those of you who have moved, especially often and/or cross-culturally, What did you leave behind? I’ll start: I left the balcony where my daughter took her first steps; the apartment complex where my son learned to ride a bike; the ability to call out my kitchen window to friends hanging out outside; keys to all my friends’ homes; my electric scooter; neighborhood walks involving greeting all the shop keepers/fruit vendors we knew; and some aspect of my identity that now needs to be rediscovered or redefined in this new place.