Greetings from America! By the time you read this, I will be back in my homeland for the first time in nearly a year. Well, that is, assuming I survived three flights with a nine-week-old and a nearly- four-year-old.
I'm back in Iowa to spend Thanksgiving with family and attend my cousin's wedding. It will also be the first time my parents meet their new granddaughter.
But beyond the family reunion, I'm also back for my own mental health. While at this stage in life eleven months isn't what it used to be, it's still an awfully long time to be away from the bulk of the people I know on this earth. I desperately need a heaping helping of home.
Having worked at The Copenhagen Post for over a year now, I know enough about our readership to know that my situation is far from unique. The city – and to a lesser degree the rest of Denmark – is filled with thousands of people who have left their homelands to settle down in this little northern nation.
But still, seen as a whole, choosing to abandon everything one knows to begin anew in a foreign country isn't exactly a widely popular life choice.
The vast majority of the people I know from back home have never so much as left the country, let alone settled down outside of it. And that's not unique to my circle of family and friends, the numbers play out across the United States. Only 37 percent of Americans even have a passport, according to numbers from the US Department of State, and that number is a big increase on just a few years ago, thanks to a 2007 initiative that required US citizens to use a passport when travelling to neighbouring Mexico and Canada.
When it comes to permanently relocating, the Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of Americans never move out of their home state and 37 percent never leave their hometowns. That last number increases to nearly 50 percent when you look only in the Midwest, the region of the country I'm from. Many of those who do move away end up returning, as roughly half of all Americans currently live within a 80-kilometre radius of where they were born.
This isn't meant to pick on my fellow Americans. I think Americans are unjustly seen – particularly by many Europeans who appreciate any opportunity to snootily look down their noses at us – as oblivious and uninterested in anything that happens outside the country's borders. While that stereotype may be grounded in some truth, Americans do get around. Over 30 million Americans travelled overseas in 2009.
What's more, an estimated 6.2 million Americans currently live outside the US. A sizeable number to be sure, but one that only corresponds to two percent of the current US population.
In a quick and very unscientific poll of my co-workers, who represent nine different nationalities, about half – those from the US, Denmark, Ukraine, and South Korea – said that the vast majority of people they know from 'home' never left, while the Brits, Irish, South Africans, and Kiwis appear to have a stronger wanderlust.
Danes certainly enjoy a reputation as globetrotters, but they're not all that likely to settle down and live abroad. Statistics Denmark shows that in 2008 Danes took 16.6 million vacations that required travel – that's nearly three per person. But those of us who have settled down in a foreign country know that there is a big difference between visiting and living. Although no official numbers are kept on how many Danes live abroad, stats compiled by statsborger.dk – a group campaign for dual citizenship rights for Danes – put the total at 167, 950. That figure corresponds to only three percent of Denmark's population – just slightly higher than the proportion of Americans.
It's no surprise that so few people live outside their homelands. Being separated by great distances from family, friends, and one's culture and traditions is a mentally difficult undertaking. For me it always strikes hardest when I am back in Iowa.
It brings to mind the popular saying: "You can't go home again." That's wrong. You can go home again, you just can't expect it to be the same. Once you've been living somewhere else for an extended period – picking up new experiences, new thoughts, new perspectives, and new friends – returning home can stir up a variety of emotions as you realise that everything you knew, while still very much a part of you, is now firmly in the past.
So while I know I will greatly enjoy my time back home seeing friends, visiting old haunts and, most importantly, watching my parents spoil my children, by the end of the trip I'll once again be ready to trade Des Moines for Copenhagen.
I'll be longing for my own house, my everyday family routines, and the charms of the city itself. In short, after spending two and a half weeks 'back home', I'll be ready to come back home.
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