Why you feel like a foreigner in your own country when you visit home

  • Post published:December 22, 2019
  • Post comments:8 Comments
  • Reading time:9 mins read

In this post, I share three reasons why and how it’s possible to feel relief from all the familiarity and simultaneously also feel like a complete foreigner in your own country.


However, despite the fact that we all naturally lose some of the connection with our past homes, it doesn’t mean that our degree of integration in a new country is somehow greater. There will still be many-many-many things that we may still be figuring out in our new home country. 

Maybe you’re still wrapping your head around the language, or figuring out why people do what they do, or navigating a bureaucratic maze.

In other words, after a while there comes a point where you’re not involved enough in either country – and that can make you feel like a foreigner in your own country, a place that was supposed to be so familiar to you.

So, inevitably, you’re going miss all the developments and find yourself having to play catch up whenever you go back home.

For instance, you don’t know how the public transportation system works because it’s been upgraded, you don’t know what’s trendy, you can’t understand the latest jokes, or you don’t have a clue why everyone’s raving about this one new celebrity.

No matter where you are, you suddenly realize that you don’t know 100% how things work anywhere. You’re just a wide-eyed tourist everywhere. 

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Whether you were exposed to a greater range of opportunities in a new country or you saw moving to a new place as a way of chasing after your dreams, we’re going to have a strong connection to the places that help realize our goals and dreams. 

Any place that gets us closer to what we truly need and want in life is going to have a special place in our hearts. 

For instance, I have an irrational relationship like that with Switzerland. It was one of the first places I moved to on my own. Even without knowing too much about the country beforehand, it opened my world to so many new ways of being, things to enjoy in life and dreams to follow – all of which I couldn’t even imagine existed before. 

Switzerland opened my eyes to the fact that I appreciate big family dinners (which I didn’t have growing up) or that I love hiking (which I couldn’t do in my very flat home country). I learned so much about what I liked and didn’t like, and all of it was made possible by the fact that I had to build a life with new tools and new opportunities in a new place. 

In this sense I was lucky that the Swiss life that I saw fit who I was (and still am), because there have also been less fortunate matches in other countries I’ve moved to (I’m looking at you, Australia). 

Even if you never feel like you’ll belong in the country that you’ve chosen to live in now, if it’s a place that has brought amazing opportunities to you – especially things that would have never been possible back home – you’re going to feel some sort of attachment to that country. And potentially a much stronger attachment than your home country.  

In such a case, going back home is only going to point a flashlight on what was missing there all along. 

And so you feel like a foreigner in your own country because it is missing important things that you’ve been able to enjoy or make into reality in your life somewhere else.  

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You can never wipe the slate clean of everything which came before your move abroad, or of everything that came after you moved.

There are bits and pieces of your upbringing, your schooling, traditions, personality traits and values, job opportunities and love life that you bring with you wherever you go. Wherever you go – there is you. 

What living abroad does is that you get to live out those same things in a new place, and be forced to discover new ways of being you in a new context and under different circumstances. 

So, feeling like a foreigner in your own country can also come about because over time you become two people at once, split between two places (or potentially more places). Depending on where you are, you hit pause on one or the other person. 

People that know me have often told me that I’m a completely different person when I’m around my relatives in Estonia. She’s more monotonous in the way she speaks. She’s not super keen on public displays of affection. But somehow she’s also more relaxed about not having every day planned out.

But the minute we’re alone (even while visiting Estonia), I immediately snap back into who I have become over the years of living abroad. The person I am while living abroad is unapologetically silly and dorky. I can talk A LOT. And I’m all about hitting those goals in life, one step at a time, because I simply have way more opportunities here to realize my dreams. 

After living abroad for a while, you realize that you’re made up of a hundred different fragments, some of which simply have no use in your new life or in your old life. 

But recognizing that, for instance through the lens of an outside observer, can be as jarring as being told that your childhood room has been turned into your dad’s man cave. 

Over to you – what are the things, big or small, that make you feel like a foreigner in your own country


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September 24, 2020 11:55 pm

Hey Katherine, First of all – I absolutely love this blog and your writing style is gorgeous. Secondly, this specific entry made me feel happy. I could relate to so many things you listed. Whenever I visit my home country, I feel like ‘a wide-eyed tourist’. I also learned that I love hiking because Latvia, as you might know, is also very flat and before going abroad I didn’t know that this is one of my favourite activities. My friends and I have talked so much about feeling like there are two personalities – one that exists in the home… Read more »

November 22, 2020 6:07 am

Hey, I really liked this article, it was very insightful to my current self dilemma. I have not live in my own country (America) for years however I will be residing back in a few months. I do not feel like I am apart of that nation anymore after spending a few years in other countries- particularly Eastern Asia. I feel like I belong there more as I speak the language (somewhat) and actually look more Asian than I do Caucasian. I suppose this is a natural thing for us expats, correct?

Cesar Armando Noguera Torres
Cesar Armando Noguera Torres
November 27, 2020 8:47 am

I am the same my mother is from Peru , my father from Venezuela , I was born on Peru, then lived in Spain Madrid, then now living in Uk Birmingham

Nascy G
Nascy G
April 21, 2021 8:45 pm

peoples actions, culture, the sytem and they way some things are viewd as wrong which in other countries are seems normal.

Last edited 3 years ago by Nascy G
Cate S
Cate S
September 20, 2021 11:41 pm

I lived in England for 18 years. I am American. I moved back to America in 2004 and I have been miserable most of the time since I have returned. I feel like I don’t belong here. I don’t feel American anymore. 🙁 I would try to go back to England but all of my grown children are here now. I wouldn’t want to separate myself from them even though they don’t live in my town. Surely there is a way I can feel ‘at home’ here. After all I was born and raised here.