The hardest part…

Good Housekeeping is one of several periodical...
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Many people hold a stereotypical view of expat life; they imagine healthy, tanned, well-dressed people, quaffing exotic drinks in exotic locations, living in luxurious homes and constantly adding to their art collections. Though it may be like that for some, it is by no means the reality for us all.

The realities of being an expatriate are many and varied, as are the things you learn about yourself when you become one. It all depends on the individual. I know I am adaptable (given 12 months to get over the cultureshock), I know I am tenacious enough to get out there and carve a new life out of nothing. I can confidently deal with the logistics of packing and shipping an entire family of five from one continent to another, and locate and establish links to educational, health, financial and social resources, all while continuing to maintain a semblance of family life, albeit without furniture, electrical appliances or TV for the first few weeks! I know I can single-handedly manage three kids between the ages of three months and five years on an eight-hour flight and come out the other side, not having lost i. any of them, ii. any luggage, or iii. my marbles.

But my biggest discovery is that I am actually a very serious nester, a homebody. I adore creating a comfortable sanctuary for my family that we can enjoy and feel “at home” in. I visualise us – the kids growing older and passing life’s milestones: high-school, learning to drive, graduation – and our home growing with us, around us, reflecting our life back at us with pictures, hobby materials and treasured possessions and memories.

I miss having a stable, familiar, comfortable base. I admonish myself for this shallow indulgence. I must watch too many Hollywood movies! What kind of frivolous, superficial person am I?


I have all the people who mean the most to me in the world, here with me under this roof.


Surely family and friends should rate higher on my Miss List than a home from the pages of “Good Housekeeping”. But it doesn’t. In my family, distance has been elevated to an art form, despite us all being in the same country, so being on another continent hasn’t made much difference. Social media makes staying in touch with friends easy. But there, you go, what can I say…It’s the one thing I continue to struggle with, re-emerging when I watch a film with a family home in it, or visit someone else’s house.

All this doesn’t exactly sit well with the expatriate life we have chosen. The cold reality is a string of rental properties with improbable colour schemes and questionable hygiene, upheaval on a 12 monthly basis (unless we are fortunate to get a three or four-year lease) and unknown neighbours and neighbourhoods to become familiar with, just when you have started to feel a part of your present one. And no valid reason to buy cushions and occasional tables.

But such is the addiction of discovering new places and their ways of life, the challenge of making things work despite all the odds and obstacles, the roller-coaster ride thrill of a steep learning curve, the joy of discovering you can do it! I choose to smother my craving for settled comfort for the time being. I put my trust in the hope that there will be plenty of time for that later. Right now I’m grabbing the world with both hands and throwing myself headlong into the next adventure. I’m taking each day as it comes and enjoying it for what it is, because who knows where I’ll be in three years time – and I just might be craving all that I have right here, right now…



Whitby Shores, Whitby, Ontario

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. Each day should be lived to the max…u only get one chance….blink and you could miss a whole life time of experince and always kick yourself what if!

    1. Exactly! Carpe Diem! I slept through the first half of my life – self-anesthetised against more pain. I don’t intend to continue snoozing into the second half…

  2. Loved this post. Your ‘serious nesting’ is what your family will remember and take with them out into the world. It doesn’t matter which house, neighborhood, city, country or continent: you made it a home filled with love and memories. Some people never achieve that, even when staying put.
    The only thing I would add is don’t wait for an excuse to buy cushions or occasional tables, or to put up art, etc. I don’t advocate spending ridiculous amounts, just making sure that you don’t skimp on the little things that help you feel settled in (even if moving within a year). So I hang the pictures and light the candles, keep an eye out for a piece of furniture that will always remind us of here, put out the placemats and couch throws. (You need the latter here when it’s damp and cold!)

    1. Thanks for giving me a different perspective on this one Linda. I always feel slightly guilty that something that appears to be so shallow has such an effect on me, but I suppose I am working towards creating a strong sense of identity and belonging through our home, which, as you say, we all take out into the world with us. I like that, thanks 🙂
      As for the part about cushions… you’re the kind of person my husband dreads me speaking to! He rolls his eyes whenever I comment on nice lamps, cushions etc. Like so many men, he would probably see nothing wrong with living in a hole in the ground, and then wonder what it was that was missing!!! Guess that’s what they call “A woman’s touch”. Trust me…the throws are already out – I’m sure it’s just a matter of a week or two until we get snow, I know they’re already buried in Alberta! Congratulations on Turning Points doing so well xxx

  3. What a lovely post and so very true. I’ve been an expat in the same country for 11 years and I only just found out how the schools worknow that my daughter started school this term, how do you manage to do that with 3 kids plus move house every 12 months!!! You must be very organised…

    1. Thankyou! Wow, 11 years, there mustn’t be much about it that shocks/floors you anymore, you sound quite settled there. It would probably be closer to the truth to say I used to be very organised. Less so now, worn down by location changes and three energetic kids, but, I find not dwelling on the idea that it will all have to be repeated later, helps – otherwise life would be put on hold, and years would pass before we wondered what it was we were waiting for, and realise life had passed us by. Wasn’t it John Lennon that said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.”

  4. Definitely can relate to the multiple rentals and wishing for a “place of my own”. My husband and I both go through seasons of “wishing and longing” for that, but at this point I’m still too “in love” with discovery new cultures and people. One day we’ll “settle down” and buy a place,but I have a fear of getting bored. Isn’t that silly?

    1. Not silly at all! I can totally relate… only humans would be complicated enough to simultaneously crave two things at opposite ends of the spectrum! We really do want it all, don’t we!

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