>Insider and Outsider, Coming and Going

>I have been making my “to do” list for the first day I am back in Hong Kong–Change money at my bank; buy phones and a printer at Broadway; buy street guides at Page One; buy sim cards at the 7-11 for the phones; try my HK bank card in the cash machine to make sure I remember the password; go to one of two local grocery stores to buy some food; get coffee at the Starbucks or Pacific Coffee.

As I anticipate my return to Hong Kong I have been reflecting on the difference between returning to a place I have lived in the US compared to returning to a place I have lived abroad. I have had numerous conversations around this topic and the experience seems to be universal–

When we return to a place where we have lived within our own culture and country, we feel like aliens. One person described it as an “out of body” experience. We feel out of place and somewhat uncomfortable. It should feel like home but it does not.

But when we return to a place that we have lived which is abroad, we return and feel at once at home. There is an incredible level of comfort in knowing where to go and how to do things. I have experienced this again and again. When I lived in Hong Kong before, I would even feel this incredible sense of comfort and “home” after returning to Hong Kong from elsewhere when traveling on the 25E bus from the airport back to my neighborhood, seeing the familiar lights and sights along the route, and knowing where to get off.

Why do we feel like aliens when we return to a place within our culture, but feel like we are home when we experience a return to another culture? Is it the contrast between our expectations related to being an insider versus an outsider? Is it the contrast between an initial adjustment to a different culture and the return which doesn’t require such an adjustment in terms of just basic knowledge?

Thoughts? It remains something to ponder as I pack.

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