Written By Nikki Cornfield
In March, I attended The Families in Global Transition Conference in The Hague as a Parfitt-Pascoe Writing Resident. I felt like I had stepped into a garden of my favorite flowers. Here were people like me from all over the world and we connected like a global family. Everyone had their own story to tell about their ride on the rollercoaster without seatbelts, and this had been the place to share them. The experience was to change the lens through which I viewed the past, the present and the future and gave another dimension to my vision of the world.
Where it all began
The Netherlands had always been one of my ‘homes’ and it held a special spot in my heart. This was my first overseas move and the birthplace of two of my children. Settling into my seat on the flight back to Adelaide I reflected on the previous struggles I had felt going backwards and forwards to one home or another and the pull of my heart to the places I was leaving behind. As the plane climbed steeply into the murky sky I felt the elastic that had been holding me here snap and release me. I was finally able to do this recently on leaving the UK and I realized how important it was to say goodbye and step confidently into the next chapter. To an expat home can mean many places but quite often we leave the door swinging on its hinges and us still hanging onto the door handle. I love the fact that I have found another sense of home in the community of FIGT and I will be back.
Moving back to Australia
Three years ago while we were living in Malaysia Andy was approached to fill a new role in South Australia. My gut instincts told me no and the first words out of my mouth were, “ I am not moving to Adelaide!” Renowned for its parochial attitudes and being ‘clicky’ I was warned it would be a difficult place to break into. But I was confident that if I tossed the same ingredients into the bowl, set the temperature I would get a cake I liked eventually, so we packed up the family and moved in search of a new adventure.
We landed on a dark windy night into a deathly quite airport. Pushing our trolleys through the terminal I felt like a goldfish knocked out of its warm, safe bowl. I felt a rising panic at the shock of what I had done and for once I was lost for words. The terminal doors slid open and we were blasted by freezing cold air. Moving here had meant yanking up all my anchors and losing the support system that had rooted me there. Our children had left Marlborough College Malaysia and their expat friends and and we had said goodbye to a full and varied social life, ‘Best of British’ at The British Club and twice yearly trips back ‘home’ to the UK. All had been severed in one big blow and the loss of so much life giving blood drained me and reduced me to a blubbering wreck.
As winter took a hold I became withdrawn and depressed, I was acutely homesick for my old life and an angry, tearful and resentful wife. Lonely and isolated I became crippled by panic attacks and struggled to sleep. I was ready to pack my bags and begged Andy to leave and go back. But as we all know going backwards is like paddling a boat against a current. I knew I was caught in a rip tide and that meant to survive there was only one direction to swim.
My Front Door
As I stood at the front door of our new home I could feel the air in my throat constricted. I felt trapped, like Rapunzel in the tower. I didn’t know a single person, and I felt invisible. I had arrived in new places before but this time the shock and contrast was debilitating. I had left behind a feeling of belonging, a life of friends and kids and dogs dropping in for a swim and had it replaced by a void of empty days that I didn’t know how to fill. It got harder to get my head off the pillow and I cried with sheer frustration and grief. I longed to be able to drive to see someone or just pop around the corner to a friends for coffee and Mum and Dad were sadly so far away. The kids were feeling the same loss and I felt so guilty to have uprooted them once more. They too had lost their sense of belonging, their links with the UK severed. They became these ‘different’ children from somewhere else. We had turned our world upside down and inside out and it felt like a wrong turn.
The warmth inside
Inside our new home we clung to each other. Our warmth and closeness being the only thing we had. We spent the long dark nights just talking. Inside represented my family, my security and the nest for us all; we talked endlessly about everything we had done before, what we missed and what we felt. It was like pulling the meat from the carcass to get to the bare bones, nothing was left unsaid. I questioned my decision over and over to come to this place so far from where we wanted to be, so removed from friends, from the people we loved and who loved us.
My Global Backyard
In my backyard, this became my private space where I could be myself and keep my links to the big wide world. Sitting on the balcony with the spectacular views of the stepped English gardens opposite and the graceful alpacas roaming in the paddock next door, I reached out to my anchors, my support system of friends and family around the world. At the front door I was this new comer with three heads, someone from somewhere else who had stories that no-one wanted to hear. Here I could keep connected to my tribe scattered near and far around the world. My phone was set with all the time zones and having regular conversations made me feel energized and alive. My Global Backyard flourished and grew as I watered it regularly and travelling to attend FIGT introduced me to new individuals around the world, another tree to watch flourish and grow.
My Global Backyard is where I can just be me, included in the wonderful world I have come to love. Being here has taught me many lessons; to listen to my intuition and be true to myself and to recognize my love of travel is like a light that cannot be extinguished. I cannot share this narrow view of the world nor live in this confined space that has constricted me anymore. It’s time to go, I have given it my best shot, and I will remember the good times and not the bad. But I will be running to the plane…
Nikki Cornfield is a British expat who grew up in the UK. She currently lives in The Adelaide Hills, a beautiful wine growing area of South Australia with her husband and three children. She started a career with British Airways, indulging her passion for travel but hung up her wings in 2002 to make her first move overseas with her new born baby.
She has been an expat for over 15 years, and has lived in The Netherlands, Perth, Singapore and Malaysia. A trained reflexologist and yoga/meditation teacher she is now focusing on her passion for writing and blogs at 'UP In The Air' where she explores expat life and world travel. You can connect with Nikki here: Website: www.nikkicornfield.com; Twitter @NicolaCornfield1; Facebook: fb.com/nikki.cornfield; Instagram: @nikki_cornfield