The words of Nelson Mandela’s sum up perfectly a feeling that I grappled with for the first time a few years ago whilst visiting England in the summertime.
I was taking a trip down memory lane with my sons, touring round the places I used to live, and the schools I once attended. It struck me that there was a distinctive gap between my past and my present. I struggle to get both parts to correlate.
Reconciling my ‘British past’ with my ‘expat in the Netherlands’ present is a task far beyond me.
With the gift of hindsight I know now that moving to the Netherlands meant the start of ‘My Life Part II’. I have contact with family and friends that played a large role in ‘My Life Part I’ but few of those actually know what it is like to be living out ‘My Life Part II’, what my daily life in the Netherlands is like. And the other way round; my Dutch family and friends have no connection to my British past.
There are no links to the life that lies behind me. There is no red thread holding it all together.
At certain times, like the occasional trips down memory lane when I am back in England, ‘My Life Part I’ and ‘My Life Part II’ collide. My Dutch children and Dutch husband are sat in the car driving around the roads and landmarks of my past. They see my childhood memories for themselves (if they manage to stay awake that is). But the two parts of my life are so different it is hard to comprehend how they make up the same life. They are world’s apart. Or countries apart in any case. The colliding of the two parts happens so infrequently it is hard to grasp how it fits together. It’s like a flawed jigsaw puzzle.
For a number of years now, whenever I am back in England, I entertain doubts about whether I could live permanently in my birth country again. I have changed. It’s no longer feels like home. I feel more foreign in England than I do in the Netherlands.
When I first moved to the Netherlands every trip I took back to England was heart wrenching. At the end of every visit back then I resented having to get on the return flight back to Schiphol. I had to force myself to go back to the Netherlands and leave what felt like my home.
These days when we are making the return trip from England to the Netherlands I feel safe in the knowledge that I am returning home. A Dutch border agent, sitting in his cramped booth at Schiphol airport in his smart blue uniform, put a huge smile on my face when he checked my passport as I re-entered Dutch territory. He looked up at me, matched my face to my passport photo, smiled and said “Welkom thuis.” Welcome home indeed.
My home had moved.
My anchor had moved.
I was aware of the transition as it took place – my sense of home shifting from England to the Netherlands right before my eyes. We were driving on the M25 motorway around London making our way back to Harwich’s ferry terminal after a visit to my father and instead of feeling laden with sadness at leaving my family I had the consolation that at least we were heading home.
Back to my safe haven.
Back to ‘My Life Part II’.
Over to You: Do you feel like there is a pre and a post expat you? Can you reconcile the two parts?