“So where are you from?”
The question that many expats dread. It’s not always a simple answer, and even if it is for you, if you’re raising a family in an expat environment, the chances are that your kids will struggle with it. The longer you spend living outside your home country, the more blurred the picture of ‘home’ becomes.
It’s simple to answer “Where were you born?” or “Where do your parents live?” But a lot more difficult to define where home is.
No, where are you really from?
I was born in Africa. Raised in England. Went to a boarding school. University. Professional training in Europe. First job in Scotland. Now living in the Middle East, and our kids were born there too. Bought a family house in France. So where on earth is our home? And how does that affect how we build wealth?
I’ve often said that “Home is where my toothbrush is.” Whilst that sounds ridiculous, it’s actually not such a crazy statement. It means that I am content wherever I am. I am not always searching for a place to be. As humans, we often spend time searching for the next big thing, or worrying that we’ve missed it. But I’ve found comfort in just being happy in the here and now. When it’s stinking hot in the heat of the Arabian summer, I don’t always feel like that, but I remind myself that I felt the same in the Scottish winters. It’s not all roses and sunshine as an expat, but it’s no better or worse than anywhere else. Just different. And you have to learn to make the most of that.
My carefree attitude has changed somewhat since I got married and had kids. They keep me grounded a bit more. I like coming home to them every day, and if you ask them where they are from, they look at you strangely and say “Here, Daddy!” like you’re silly for asking. But the fact is, that’s not where their passports are from. They’re third culture kids (TCKs) like me. They can’t live ‘here’ forever. We’re on a rolling visa that’s tied to my job. One day that will come to an end and we’ll have to move on. So it makes sense to prepare for that, both financially, and mentally.
What does this have to do with building wealth?
We build wealth financially, but also emotionally and spiritually. We all have our favourite area to focus on, but we forget the others at our peril. Not having that defined home territory than most people do, we expats sometimes have to work harder at the emotional and spiritual aspects than others. How do you teach your kids cultural values when they live multicultural lives? How do you maintain strong family bonds when you family are all over the place? These are questions I wrestle with all the time, and the answer is usually that it’s not easy. But if you’re willing to put that effort in, the returns may well be worth it. Your life may well be richer than those who live more conventional lives. Outsized returns are rarely delivered without outsized effort.
Some people view not having a fixed base as a weakness. But if you take the glass half full view, then I’d prefer to call it a strength. One trait that financial investors worldwide fall foul of (and it’s very hard not to) is ‘Home Bias’. I’m going to look into that in a separate post to try and do it justice, but basically, home bias is not necessarily a good thing, and if you don’t really have a home, you’re less likely to be biased!
So here’s to a life more complicated! Let’s raise that half-full glass and make the most of all these opportunities that this wonderful expat life provides us. May your toothbrush follow you far and wide. And may you be happy calling it your home for as long as you’re there.
(And for the record, ever since I got married – home is now where my wife’s toothbrush is!)