Existential Migration

Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe.The host for this month is Sharon Couzens. I’ll be posting a new ESL related article to this blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please get in touch with Dean at dean@reachtoteachrecruiting.com, and he’ll let you know how you can start participating!

Read the rest of the entries over on Sharon’s blog: TEFL Tips


“The feeling of home arises from specific interactions with our surroundings that could potentially occur anywhere, at any time.” 

– Greg Madison


Travel is a sort of adolescence, an exploration of self and your relationship to the world. You test boundaries, explore preferences, and differentiate yourself from the place you come from. You build an individual understanding of the world, away from the constrictions and patterns of regular life.

Travel for long enough, and you begin to find the familiar in the foreign. You become accustomed to the rise and fall of languages you can’t understand, like listening to a new song over and over, such that when you return to a country where your native language is spoken, it is strange and somewhat intrusive to understand the conversations of strangers.

Greg Madison, a psychologist from Canada who lives in the UK, studies people who live abroad and coined the term Existential Migration. He defines this way of living as “a chosen attempt to express something fundamental about existence by leaving one’s homeland and becoming a foreigner”. Among this population, he says, there is a marked preference for the strange and foreign over familiar or conventional routines. It follows that a new definition of home is required for these existential migrants, one that lies in experiences and interactions rather than a specific geographical place. As Pico Iyer would say, a piece of soul rather than a piece of soil.


My Evolution of Home

The first time I returned home from travelling, it felt like putting on an old pair of jeans that had been crumpled and forgotten in the back of my closet. Familiar but ill-fitting. I brimmed with stories and experiences and the new love glow that comes with discovering a passion. But, at the same time, I felt oddly bereft and unmoored. There was a fissure now, between me and home.

The second time I came home, I knew that it would be temporary, and that allowed me to enjoy the time I had just for what it was. After two years abroad, my identity had become inexorably intertwined with being the foreigner. Even at home, I felt like a foreigner now. I embraced it, and wrapped myself in the feeling of being alien in my own country. And yet, I felt like I was between countries, like being between jobs or houses. I didn’t have much of a home anywhere, just a collection of memories, a weird Australian-Canadian pigeon English, and dreams that were sometimes in Spanish. In my heart, I knew that the change was irrevocable; I’d never be the same.

Reconnecting with childhood friends no longer left me unmoored, rather we delighted in the different paths that each of our lives were on. They listened to my travel stories, and I played with their kids and celebrated their career milestones. Our separateness was not an apartness, but a growing alongside, like the branches of a tree reaching into different parts of the sky.

In India, I explored the art of doing nothing, of sitting in silence and plumbing the space between breaths. And I discovered a new sense of home, stronger than any other, that was curled up within me and accessible any time, anywhere. I started to feel at home in sections of time and shades of emotion. I thought about all the places I’d been and discovered that I’ve been collecting homes all over the world: The caravan I lived in for five months in the outback, the friends I had for only two days in Turkey, the chai I shared with a rickshaw driver outside Varanasi, the sisterhood I found in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and the convent in India, my vagabond family at yoga school in Rishikesh, the weekend I spent with my mother in my birth country, Singapore. Far from homelessness, I live in abundance.

I’ve moved to the UK now. I’m sort of hanging up my travelling shoes: getting a job and a place to live and shelves upon which to put my three holey tee shirts; all that regular life stuff. While the transition has been challenging — arriving in Oxford from India was like returning to Earth from Mars — I’m thrilled to be putting down some roots, albeit shallow ones. It’s comforting to know that all I need to go home is a quiet space and the sound of my own breath.

The only constant in life is change. No matter which path you are on, your concept of home will change and evolve as you do. The older we get, the more experiences we have, the more we realize that home isn’t a concrete concept, it is something that we create in ourselves and in our interactions with the world.

Meeting People Abroad


Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. The host for this month is Reach to Teach, here you can find other similar articles. I’ll be posting a new ESL related article to this blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please get in touch with me at dean@reachtoteachrecruiting.com, and I’ll let you know how you can start participating!

Read the rest of the articles here.  

This month’s topic is How to Meet People Abroad.

Meeting people when you’re backpacking is as easy as breathing. Depending on where you go, it can actually be harder to get any time for yourself. Travelling solo is really only leaving your home by yourself; you won’t be alone for long, unless you want to be.


Step by Step Guide to Making New Friends Abroad:

  1. Check into a hostel.
  2. Wait for someone to show up, either in your room or in the common area.
  3. Ask them where they’re from or wait for them to ask you.
  4. Congratulations, you are now friends. Feel free to spend as much or as little time together as you want.


Meeting people abroad is completely different than meeting people at home. And it’s funny when you compare the two. At home, you’d never approach a complete stranger, and ask them a couple of generic questions, and then spend the next 72 hours straight with them (eating together, sleeping in the same room, taking turns arguing with rickshaw drivers, taking turns being sick; doing everything together). But that’s how it goes on the road.

There are five ice breaker questions: Where are you from? How long are you staying for? Where have you been? Where are you going? What’s your name?

After a while, it does get a little boring of having the same conversation over and over — and once you meet a few people, everyone’s travel resume gets mixed up in your head. I stayed in the same working hostel for a few months in Perth and there was talk amongst us long-termers that we should start making collector cards or t-shirts that had the answers to the five questions on it, so we could keep track of everybody.

Travel relationships are special. They are quick, intense, and frequently turn into long lasting friendships (I am still in regular contact with someone I only spent one day with in Argentina five years ago). It’s easy to get along with anyone on the road, no matter their background, I think, because you are on the same wavelength — you want to see what there is to see, eat good food and drink beer, all as cheaply as possible.

Time is different on the road, too: spending an afternoon with someone is like spending a week with them back home. A month is like a year, etc. Maybe it’s because the rest of your life is stripped away: you’re not worried about rent or work or that jerk who keeps parking in your space. Everything becomes an adventure, especially the bad stuff. The heroin addicts who scammed you out of 500 ruppees, or the stray dog you saw eating a diaper, or the guy who vomited all over your bag on the train, or the maggot you saw doing the backstroke in your dal, or the scooter that broke down in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night: it all becomes a good story. Sharing travel horror stories over a few beers with fellow backpackers is some of the most fun I’ve ever had.

Just like the experiences you have while travelling — whether it’s having your breath taken away on the top of a mountain in the Himalayas or fighting a donkey for the outdoor bathroom while you’re sick — the people you meet are just as indelible. I’ll always remember the Americans I had my first rakia with in Turkey, the Brazilians I spent Christmas with in Buenos Aires, and the Russian girl who gave me her perfume on my birthday in Goa because she didn’t have time to get me a present.