How to Strike a Balance when Living Away from “Home”

January 13, 2012 by admin

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“I am a citizen of the world”, this is what both myself and my two brothers, who also live abroad, think of ourselves. Having left home at 18 to come to the UK to study, when people ask me now if I miss “home”, sometimes I wonder: Where is home really?

I have not been living abroad for that long; however, here is my little experience of living away from my birth-country.

Stage one: Culture Shock!

Everyone goes through this phase when deciding to move country, and for me it was definitely something that I was going through almost all of my first year in the UK. It must have been a combination of events and emotions. Coming from a small country, where in my home town there are about 3-4 main roads and everyone knows each other, to a bigger city like Brighton (yes! Brighton seemed massive to me at first), having to converse in a different language (and even though I was studying English since the age of 7, I found myself struggling to understand and communicate).

Instinctively therefore, at first your innate radar which is able to spot “your own kind” amongst crowds works wonders – and so my first acquaintances in the country were actually Greeks and Greek-Cypriots.

Stage Two: Embracing the “New” and turning away from anything home-related

After coming to terms with the new reality and reaching a stage where I was not embarrassed to speak English anymore (no matter how bad it was), I realise, looking back, that I had turned away from anything Greek-related. Of course at first, I mingled with the Greeks and Greek-Cypriots, but after a while I started to consciously make an effort to be among English and international people, which was great, as my English improved in no time.

I also got an insight of how people in my host country interact, and had a real taste of the colloquial use of the language and I made myself some good life-long friends. The downturn to this was that I started losing touch with my native country. Making strong friendships here, along with the University workload, resulted in fewer and fewer visits to Cyprus and Greece each year. This had a direct effect on my native language skills, which lead to the next stage.

Stage Three: Back to base

Moving on to my postgraduate studies, where I chose to do Translation, very early in the course I realised it was almost impossible for me to utter a complete sentence in Greek without using English words in the interim! I am of course exaggerating a little, as this only applied when I had to use more formal speak – my everyday use of Greek was okay. It was around that time that I started making great efforts to constantly be in touch with my home country, so that I could improve my language skills.

Reading the news on-line, watching Greek TV, listening to the radio and spending more time with my Greek friends here in the UK did the trick. As a language person, I cannot help but notice language habits and keeping in touch with your native language is the most important thing to stay connected to your roots. Language is interconnected with culture, and our culture is part of our identity. Although I am for the idea of being a citizen of the world, at the same time I am very passionate about keeping my culture alive, remembering where I come from.

Stage Four: Finding a balance

Now that I have decided to make the UK my home, I notice that I have found a balance and managed to have as much contact with my former home as possible. I talk to my family and friends in Greece and Cyprus as often as possible, either by email or online and I visit them whenever possible. I also listen to the news in Greek and watch a lot of Greek programmes online. There are also many websites where you can join an online group and meet other expats which usually organise outings and other events.

To wrap up, a piece of advice to anyone who is away from home or planning to move away: Integrate but don’t forget! We have the means today at our disposal to stay connected with our loved ones who are back home and keep the bond with our home-country strong.

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