© 2010 Steven Wong

Home, sweet home?

I’m one of those people I like to call “career nomads”. It’s not about bouncing around from one job to the next. It’s not even about bouncing around from one field or industry to another one. What I mean is using your career as the means to travel from one place to another. But while you might have to travel for your work, I’m talking about people who do this deliberately, because they want to go to new places.

In my case, after finishing my undergrad in Canada, I moved to Germany for work, then London for a grad degree, Kenya for my dissertation research, back to London for more work, and now I’m here in Beijing. All the while, I’ve tried to take the opportunity to travel around those places while I’m there, because, well, why not? What’s the point of going somewhere you’ve already been, unless you’re visiting someone?

So career nomads are avid travellers; that’s usually the reason why they never settle down in any one place. And as cool as all this might sound, one difficult thing about being a career nomad is reaching the point where you finally call a new place “home”.

For some people, it’s around the time they meet a certain number of friends. For others, it’s when the local shopkeeper remembers your name. For others still, it’s when that certain someone is with them. And sometimes, if you’re unfortunate, you may never really get to that point.

But there are usually signs that you’ve adapted to the new place, things that might make you suddenly realize that you’ve established yourself there. Here, in reverse order, are my top 5 indications that your new home is actually indeed your new “home”:

5. Changing your home airport – Most travel and flight websites require you to fill out a profile which contains travel-related data, such as whether you prefer a window or aisle seat. One specific item usually found is the ability to designate a “home” airport.

I have a friend who somehow gets really attached to his home airport. It’s a source of comfort for him, so it usually takes him a little while to change his profile, to acknowledge that he finally feels at home.

4. You know all the shortcuts – Career nomads usually have no problem moving but we’re still creatures of habit and comfort. When you first move, you might have a map of the new place but that’s no substitute for the familiarity that experience brings, the knowledge that you know your way around your neighbourhood.

The first habit to form is the route you take to go to school or work. It’s usually the most logical way to go, but frequently it’s not the shortest or the fastest way. I start feeling at “home” when I know the best way to get home, no matter the time or traffic conditions.

3. Cheering for a local sports team – The ties that bind you to your hometown are strong, especially when it comes to sports. To this day, I still cheer for all my hometown teams, though it’s been over 14 years since I’ve lived there.

However, you’re bound to meet local people wherever you move, and they’ll be fans of a local team, and you might find yourself cheering for the same local team, especially if it’s a different league or even a different sport than the teams you support. That’s a pretty good indication you’re “home”.

2. You start to hate tourists – When you first arrive in a new place, you’re bound to be like any other tourist: you go out to the same places, see the same sights, do the same things. After all, you’re trying to get to know the place.

But at some point you will become familiar enough with the area that you start wondering why tourists don’t obey the local customs and traditions. You start cursing under your breath about all the tourists who get in your way. You get frustrated at how tourists seems to take up extra space with their big bags and cameras and unfolded maps. You know what that means, don’t you? You’re “home”.

1. You miss it when you’re gone – Now this usually comes about with a jarring realization that you do indeed consider your new place your home. It’s usually something you’d think quite insignificant that makes you realize it. Maybe it’s the smell of fresh bread from the bakery on the corner or the smile from the cute barista at the coffee shop near your work.

It happened to me recently after spending 5 months in Beijing before going to Hong Kong for a couple weeks to visit relatives and friends. Midway through the second week, I was already starting to miss the sights, sounds, and yes, even smells of Beijing. I didn’t think I would, but I did.

I couldn’t wait to get home.

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