Home can evoke wistfulness and a feeling of longing that seems to settle in your soul. Or home can simply mean a place you visit once a year, if only to keep your family happy. Or home can be in many places at once, wherever you have a left a piece of your heart.
The longer you embark on an expat lifestyle, the more fluid the concept of home becomes.
The Cayman Islands has a large expat community, comprising around half of the 50,000-strong population. People come from all over the world to live in the sun and take advantage of the islands’ tax-free status. As a result, you can have friends from all over the world.
The downside of this avid multiculturalism is that Cayman is a transient society; friends come and go, and leaving parties are a regular occurrence.
For some, Cayman becomes home. Expat folklore is filled with stories of those who only came from six months, but stayed 16 years. These expats-cum-locals make a proper life in the islands — buy property, have children, start a business — and never plan to leave (and this path is not without its share of hoops). They have usually spent far too long abroad to ever go back to what would traditionally be considered home.
For others, Cayman is a stop on the expat trail, a place to play for a few years, but not settle down. We try on this new home and see how it fits.
Someone told me recently that expats in Cayman either stay for six months or 10 years. I don’t know if this is entirely accurate, but it is true that life in Cayman can be a divisive experience; not quite love or loathe, but rather, are you a lifer? Or just in for a few years?
Upon meeting a new face, a regular conversation goes something like this:.
“Where are you from?”
“What brought you to Cayman?”
“How are you enjoying it so far?”
“Do you think you’ll stay long?”
It is a reminder that we all have a time limit. Goodbyes are inevitable.
For me, the concept of home now has shades of gray. Australia is where I come from, but I’ve been living in the islands for four years, so Cayman has become a home of sorts. When I eventually leave (for, alas, I am not a lifer), I will miss Cayman; it is not my permanent home, but it was a home, and that will always carry a certain weight for me. This feeling of detachment, a pseudo limbo, is increased by that constant question from family and friends: When are you coming home?
But what does home mean? Is it, as John Butler believes, where the heart is? Is it where you were born? Or where your family is? Is home a place or a feeling?
After indulging your itchy feet, after experiencing new cultures and perspective, after living in another part of the world, can home ever feel the same? Many expats who leave Cayman eventually return (I was one of them), for a variety of reasons — money, travel, lifestyle, the familiar pull of the islands. I returned because I didn’t quite feel finished with the islands. And, admittedly, after moving back to Australia, I began to feel restless. I missed the freedom and excitement of living overseas. I love having more than one home, more than one circle of friends.
My brother is also an expat, but, unlike me, he is in it for the long-haul. He would happily spend the rest of his life abroad; for him, home is a state of mind. As long as he can Skype with the family, his connection to home is fulfilled. For me, home is tangible: it is family, friends and familiar places.
Perhaps this need of expats to define home is just a desire to feel that we are not alone, not matter how far we roam. To feel that our wanderlust has not robbed us of the one thing we all need and we all treasure — a home.
I am constantly torn between two homes, between where I am and where I’ve come from. In a recent moment that was certainly not my finest, I cried while watching the contestants on The Amazing Race traipse around Sydney. And that quintessential Qantas anthem, I Still Call Australia Home, gets me every time.
I think Dorothy said it best: there’s no place like home. Wherever that may be.
India Lloyd is an Australian journalist living in the Cayman Islands.