An expat’s home dilemma: 22 years later

Twenty-two years ago, I arrived in Scotland to begin a one-year study abroad programme. It is sometimes hard to believe that it was that long ago; that’s nearly half my lifetime ago. And at some point, I will have lived in Scotland more than I lived in America. Indeed, it won’t be long before I am saying that most of my adult life has been spent in Scotland.

But still, even after all these years of choosing to live in Scotland, I don’t know what my future holds. Or indeed, where my future will be. Or should be. Or might be. Or… well, at least I know that I have a future (barring an unexpected change to that!).

This uncertainty is something I’ve felt since the beginning of my widowhood journey. I know that it has as much to do with the isolation and loneliness of widowhood as it does with the fear and uncertainty that comes from being an immigrant. Even more so, an immigrant living without a family unit to provide stability.

And I’ve been a lot more aware of my immigrant life in the last (nearly) two years. That’s because a big part of my uncertainty about “place” is because it’s so hard to live so far from my parents. And after the death of my beloved mother, I’m even more frightened of the day I won’t have any parents at all.

I don’t know how many times I considered my options for where to live in the long term or the forever term. I want to be here, but I want to be there (and it doesn’t matter which one you call here or there). I don’t want to give up my life in Scotland, but I don’t want to slam the door on America. And if I did give up my Scottish life, what life would I have in America? There is far too much uncertainty in it all.

Indeed, my visits home over the last two years have been filled with indecisions and questions about where I should be living. Mostly, this is because I know I am running short on time to spend with my parents (now, just Daddy). When Mum went into hospital, and it was clear she would not see another Christmas, I started thinking about how I could work remotely whilst staying home to care for her in her final weeks or months (we didn’t get that much time, in the end). When I returned for her funeral and then again last Christmas, I began to wonder about splitting my time between Scotland and America. And then, when I was home this summer, I began to think about that option even more – especially knowing that I’ll have more flexibility when I gain settled status later this year.

Oh, it’s hard. So very, very, very hard. Not having an anchor makes it worse. The fear of never seeing my loved ones again makes it worse. I feel selfish for not putting everyone else first. Even though no one in my world puts me first.

Add to the pull between this home and that home, on a national level, is the question of my physical home; the structure in which I live. For the last 10 years, I have lived in someone else’s home. They have been renting the place for about 30 years and I have been a sub-tenant. But I’m not on equal footing here and am generally relegated to my bedroom. This is not my home, as I am regularly reminded.

As I said: It’s hard. So very, very, very hard.

Yes, 22 years after I first arrived in Scotland, I still feel uncertain about my future here. However, I will be applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain (permanent residency) before the year is up, and I am hopeful that will help to alleviate at least some of the stress I feel. That’s because, once I have ILR, I will have more flexibility and more protections for my future. If wanted, I could quit my job and become a bartender. I would be able to audition as an “extra” for TV shows or films. I would even be able to return to America for a bit* knowing that I could come back to Scotland without hassle. I mean, I don’t plan to do any of those things, but I could do those things if my situation were to change.

I wonder if I will ever feel settled. I wonder if I will ever know where home truly is. I know it’s “where the heart is”… but my heart feels at home in both places.

And so, after 22 years, my expat home dilemma carries on…

* This is not part of my “plan” but knowing that I could return to America to help out with family (Dad) if I needed to is a very nice thing. It means I don’t have to decide between being there for family and living in Scotland in the long term. But the “a bit” has a 2-year clause as I forfeit ILR if I’m gone for more than two years.

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