Home is perhaps my favorite expat theme and I’m so happy to be starting this new series with this important and often complex topic. I’m incredibly fascinated by the complicated nature of what makes one place feel like home and another place feel like somewhere we just briefly took our shoes off.
This month’s interview and blog post is with Angela Stewart. I chose Angie because she is without question one of those rare expats who can create a home space that immediately says – “I live here!”
Read her responses to my Everyday Expats Questionnaire below and be sure to check out her spot-on tips for finding home no matter where you go in our video interview – the first (woohoo!!) in my Everyday Expats Video Series.
Everyday Expats Questionnaire
Tell us a bit about yourself? Where did you grow up? Where have you lived? What currently occupies your time, mind and heart?
I grew up on military bases. I was born in Germany and then spent the rest of my childhood moving from base to base in the US, mostly between Kansas and California. I graduated from high school in Washington State and then attended university in Kansas. I married just after college and my husband was accepted into the Foreign Service just before we wed. The two of us then started moving around together. It felt very normal to begin that lifestyle again and I actually felt very relieved that we would travel and not have to make any permanent decisions about where we wanted to spend our life together. It was all I had ever known. Since then we have lived in DC, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Japan. I currently stay home raising our two children and creating and crafting. I enjoy drawing, sculpting, sewing, spinning and dying yarns, knitting, leatherwork and any other craft that catches my eye.
When do you first remember realizing that you’d live an international life?
Throughout university I imagined that I would probably move to a major city after graduation and live and work there indefinitely. It was a strange concept for me but I was willing to give it a try. Pursuing international work for myself never occurred to me. When my then-fiancé mentioned his interest in the Foreign Service I was excited. I love to travel, experience different cultures, and meet new people. After my husband started work and we began moving it felt like the most natural thing in the world. Now the thought of not moving every few years is a bit intimidating. I still haven’t had all my adventures yet!
What is your absolute favorite part of living a globally mobile life?
My favorite part of living a globally mobile life is the experiences that, not only I, but my children have. I cannot overstate the value of sharing the world with my children. We worried at first that the constant moving would have a negative effect. I had experienced it myself and knew that it was wonderful for some kids but harder for others. As our children have grown however, we’ve seen what amazing, well-adjusted, creative, and compassionate human beings they are becoming. We are proud of them and they way in which they see the world and themselves in it. We have no doubt that this will be an asset to them in whatever they choose to do with their lives.
What’s your least favorite part?
My least favorite part of this lifestyle is being separated from my extended family. My family is very close-knit and only getting to see each other once a year or so is hard. Technology has made this a bit easier in the last few years. When we first started this lifestyle, 16 years ago, we had only e-mail and an occasional phone call. Now I am able to video chat with my mom and sister daily. My kids find it normal to say hi and wave to Grandma while making breakfast in the morning and it makes us feel less far away. Despite this however, and as my parents get older and my nephews and niece grow up, I still feel a loss at not being there.
What have you most learned about yourself because of this lifestyle?
I feel like I’m still constantly learning about myself and life in general. I think that moving globally however has shown me what I really value in life. When everything you own is packed up and gone, all your friendships are separated, your neighborhood changed, and your house left behind, it gives you a certain perspective on what matters and who you are. I’ve found that my life really boils down to two things; family and the love of creating. If I can be with my kids and husband and have a creative project, I am home. I think when you strip everything away and rebuild your life so often you must decide what makes the core of you and what you thrive on. Once I really identified that, it was easy, even enjoyable to start over and over and over again in new places. I had the keys to my happiness and the rest were just details to enrich my experiences and color my memories.
What do you consider to be your “everyday expat” super powers?
My “everyday expat” super power is having no expectations. I have never regretted my lack of expectation. It is a lesson I learned early on, the first time we moved to Japan. I was at the supermarket and saw a tub of cherry ice cream. I was feeling a bit nostalgic and was delighted to see something I loved. I brought it home and took a big bite only to discover it was red bean. I was terribly disappointed. Red bean ice cream is delicious, but because I was expecting cherry I was unable to really appreciate how great it was. I discovered that in life, as well as ice cream, it is best to set aside expectations and accept the very best from every situation.
I like to think about how the seemingly “everyday” choices we make in our expat lives are actually huge boosts for our mental health, physical wellbeing, ability to connect with others and sense of self in the world. The goal of this series is to bring these reminders to life. For this month’s theme, what 3 tips, suggestions or insights would you like to offer the World Tree Coaching community?
My three tips for making a home are:
Find the core of your family and make it the core of your home. If your family thrives on activity, sports, travel, or friendships, make that central to how you arrange your home. The core of my family is our connection to each other and our creative pursuits. Our house, no matter where we live, has a room where we all spend most of our time together as a family, spaces for each of us to create and play, and is decorated with our handmade items.
Make sure each person has a place in the house where they feel valued. This has become increasingly important as the children have grown. We make sure that everyone has a place to be themselves. One of our kids has a drawing space, one has a space to display projects. My husband has a yoga space and a place for reading, and I have a dedicated space to sew and create. By prioritizing a place in our home for each person’s passions, we show that we place value on each other.
A home is not a place but the life you create, and you can take it with you when you go. This is something I learned as a child. Often my sister and I will be recalling a memory and really have to stop and think about which house we were living in at the time. Our family and the way we functioned were Home. My parents placed a lot of value on consistency and our family rituals, and my husband and I have done the same thing. No matter where we live we have Friday movie and pizza night, we keep to strict bedtimes, we decorate for Christmas with candy canes, we make crazy cool birthday cakes, we discuss the best, worst, and most surprising things from our day, we eat pancakes on Sundays, and we spend time together. My husband and I strive to be the steady and calm place at the center of our lives, the “home” our kids will hopefully come back to after they have grown.