When living and leaving abroad makes you sad

Most of you will know that I’ve lived for short stints in Japan, Slovakia and Germany before returning to my home country, Australia. Japan was my first overseas home and leaving there was one of the saddest things I’ve done; leaving Slovakia and Germany was just marginally easier because I’d already had the experience of leaving a “new home”. A character in a novel I just read (Melina Marchetta’s The Piper’s Son – highly recommended!) summed up my feelings absolutely accurately. She was spending time living and working in East Timor after leaving Australia, and said:

I think the worst thing that ever happened to me was leaving home … because I miss it like you’d never believe, and then I go away from this place and I miss here too. I’m scared I’m going to spend the rest of my life in a state of yearning, regardless of where I am.

Farewell party in Japan

That’s exactly how I felt when I left Japan, and something that was only slightly improved on my following moves. Living in a foreign country – especially one with different language and culture – is such a challenge, and once you’ve mastered that and felt like you’ve settled in, know how to get about, made some local friends, and so on, that it’s a real wrench to decide to leave. And it’s clear that your experience in that country comes to a definite end: even if you went back to live there, it would never be the same, and leaving means that despite the internet and cheap telecommunications and everything, you’ll never be as close to your new friends as you were while you lived there.

Farewell dinner in Slovakia

Sometimes, this feeling is strong enough to make me certain I’ll never live in a new place again. Usually, I can remind myself that one day (not for a while – I personally think children need some stability, and I like being near my family) I would like to live somewhere else for a while, but knowing that one day you’ll leave is still something sad at the back of my mind.

Do you pine for a place you once lived? Is it worse if it’s a foreign, different place, or is it just as bad if you move to the other side of the country?


  1. We rented a house in a Thai village for 3 months when my little one was nearly three. The heartbreak of leaving our Thai family was so much the greater for the realisation that introducing my daughter to the wonders of travel also meant introducing her to the eternal angst of not being somewhere or with someone you love. I’m from a migrant family who moved a lot, and it is the joy and the sorrow I’ve always known… But without one, you can never know the other.

  2. I think it’s just as bad when you’re in the same state but at the other end. We’ve bounced between the North-West and the hills a few times and, while I love both of them wholeheartedly, when I’m in one I miss the other. We’ve been back at ‘home’ nearly 3 years and I missed the red dirt terribly for the first 18months. The painful yearning has subsided but I still miss it.

  3. @ Kath, you summarise it perfectly with “without one, you can never know the other” – that was always my fallback commiseration position!

    @ Mandi, YES, and I’m so glad you left that comment because I was trying to remember who I had discussed this issue with recently and it was YOU! Yes, I think north-west WA vs Perth hills are probably like two different cultures (and certainly the distance would have several countries between if it were in Europe) so I think the situation is very similar.

  4. The quote you used sums it up perfectly. I’ll be leaving my “second home” of Seoul, Korea, in August and while I feel compelled to go, I also know the leaving of it will be horrible. I have attachments scattered all over the globe; wherever I’m at now, I’ll always miss someone who’s someplace else.

  5. Yes, when I came across that quote it really explained how I’d always felt! I would have loved to live in Seoul – I only visited it for a few days but later taught so many Korean students here in Australia and found them so delightful. Oh and all that yummy Korean food! But then I’d have another place to feel homesick for …!

  6. Love this post Amanda. You will always have some gorgeous memories.

  7. You’ve captured it here – the sadness of being a wanderer. Always with me too, though the joy of discovery makes it stay at bay.

  8. Lovely post. I could never be a traveler for this very reason, I’m terrible at goodbyes. You must have some amazing stories though from living abroad. And amazing friends too, albeit scattered across the globe.

  9. Thanks all, and I’m *still* terrible at goodbyes, it doesn’t get any easier! And sometimes it’s sad to think I’ll never have all my favourite people in the one room at the same time (unless I win a major fortune on lotto and fly them all in). But I’m still glad to have met them all …

  10. Having lived for many years in 5 different countries, I sometimes wonder where do I actually belong? Although born in Mozambique, I moved to South Africa when I was 14, and lived there for over 20 years. Sometimes I don´t even know if I should say I´m Portuguese or I´m South African? I´m starting to feel as if I don´t have a home country at all. The joys of moving around…

  11. Yes, Sami, you’ve moved around a lot more than me and I can’t imagine how muddling that must feel at times – yes, where is home? Having returned to the place I grow up, plus had my child here, I think no matter where I go in the future I will always label Perth as “home”.

  12. I understand this feeling well.

    Thanks for Rewinding at the Fibro.

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