Ask MsCaroline: Expat Life: Home Leave

As the summer begins to wind down, the far-flung expat community - many of whom have spent their summers back in Good Ol - insert country of origin here - begins its return from Home Leave. 'Home Leave' - for the uninitiated - is just what it sounds like - a trip back to your home country - often in the summer when the kids are out of school.   MsCaroline  is, herself,  in the process of readjusting to life in Seoul after 6 weeks' Home Leave in the US, and - in the spirit of generosity that fuels some most all of her undertakings - is ready to share what she has learned about this unique aspect of expatriate living.

Question:  Isn't 'Home Leave' just a fancy name for 'vacation' or 'holiday'? 
Answer:  It depends.  If spending anywhere from 2-10 weeks in the bosom of your family while suffering from jet lag, living out of a suitcase, sleeping in guest bedrooms and on couches and visiting a dizzying number of people provides you with the same level of enjoyment and pleasure as, say, a trip to Tahiti or a visit to Disneyland, then, most certainly 'vacation' or 'holiday' would be a more appropriate description.  However, for whatever reason, most expats continue to use the term 'Home Leave.'  MsCaroline cannot imagine why.

Question:  How can I recognize an expatriate family returning from Home Leave the next time I am at the airport? 
Answer:  MsCaroline commends you for realizing that there are significant differences between expats and your typical tourist or traveler.  There are several distinct signs to alert you that you may be in the presence of expats returning from Home Leave, including:  
  •  High Mileage:   the entire family marches itself up to the Premiere Club (or whatever the airline calls its mileage rewards program) entrance at boarding time, providing an interesting contrast with all the typical snappily-dressed long-haul business travelers.  
  • Frequent-flyer children:   The children in this family are all as familiar with airport protocol, airplane layouts, security processes, and on-board entertainment options as most flight attendants.  They can slip out of their shoes, toss their laptops in a bin, and zip through security in the same amount of time that it takes an average traveler to dig out his government-issued ID.  
  • Dressing for comfort:   The fact that many of these families are traveling thousands of miles over at least 24 hours means that comfort- not necessarily style - is paramount:  these people travel in sweatpants comfortable clothes, own inflatable neck pillows, and sometimes even bring their own blankets with them.  Those who have particularly long flights also tend to exhibit a certain slightly-rumpled, down-at-the-heels, crumb-encrusted look, especially on the last leg of the journey.
  • Knowing when to rush, and when to take it easy:  The keen observer will note that the truly seasoned expat family is among the first to  trample their fellow passengers in a frantic scramble for the exit deplane and will move speedily and confidently in the direction of Immigration, where they will unerringly pick the shortest line and be on their way to the baggage claim while their tourist counterparts are still squinting questioningly at the airport signage and wondering why everyone else seems to be in such a hurry. (Note:  this was precisely what MsCaroline did when she initially arrived in Seoul last summer, deplaning at her leisure and - she is still ashamed to admit - actually stopping to use the toilet  along the way.  It only took one experience standing at the back of the monstrously long queue at Immigration for three hundred bazillion hours for her to understand - at least in the case of international flights to Asia - that Time Is Of The Essence When it Comes to Getting to Immigration After the Flight.)
  • Their Luggage:  Once your typical expat family has cleared Immigration, they will head in a leisurely manner to the Baggage Claim, where the keen-eyed observer will note the most obvious indicator of the returning expat:  luggage.  Your typical traveler or tourist may have only a carry-on, or possibly one or two checked bags, but a returning expat is likely to have not only lots of bags, but also boxes and other containers - and a lot of them.  Most expats use their Home Leave to stock up for the year on items that are difficult to obtain in their country of residence (MsCaroline, for example, returned laden with - among other things - all the really good flavors of Crystal Light, brassieres, greeting cards, and antiperspirant.) This is why MsCaroline was not surprised in the least when the family next to her at the baggage claim proceeded to load onto their trolleys no less than 8 large-sized Rubbermaid storage boxes along with their luggage and calmly head for Customs.  
Question:  What is 'jet lag' and what is its effect on the expatriate on Home Leave? 
Answer:  Jet lag is an interesting medical condition resulting when one travels across a number of Time Zones.  The resulting disorientation, confusion, and erratic sleeping/waking pattern that result are referred to as Jet Lag.  In MsCaroline's case, the 11-zone change that exists between Seoul and the East Coast of the US tends to manifest itself in waking up at 4:30 am, which - on the plus side - allows one to be up and at 'em well before the sun has risen.  The price one pays for this early morning burst of energy is, unfortunately, a tendency to become comatose when everyone else is just warming up for cocktail hour.  In the case of MsCaroline and MrLogical, this tendency manifested itself on the deck of the beach house in the afternoons, and provided a certain amount of entertainment for the extended family (as well as a number of individuals in the FaceBook community):  


Trish said…
Although I don't do Home Leave, as frequent travellers I can certainly nod my head at much of this, particularly the point about our kids being so used to security arrangements.
I can see how spending time between all those family bosoms must take its toll on you. It is lovely and warm and pillowy but even bosoms can suffocate after a time ;-)))
BavarianSojourn said…
Welcome "home"!! Love all the tips, you have them all completely and utterly correct! I hope you had a wonderful time, apart from sleeping on various couches and the like! :)
Anonymous said…
Brazil has go to be one of the most friendly home leave countries ever. For some crazy reason, when traveling to or from Brazil (when flying American or Brazilian airlines) the rules for luggage are much more generous than if you were flying the same airline to a country other than the US. Instead of the 50 lb restriction, you get two checked bags up to 70 pounds. With four of us traveling, I took full advantage of the 560 pounds of luggage that we were allowed plus our carry on allowance (much to my husband's dismay) But everything is super expensive here so I stock up on EVERYTHING in the US!

The other benefit of traveling to Brazil with two little kids is that I get to deboard the plane at my leisure because they have a special line at customs for families with small kids. Even if I am the last one off the plane and the last to arrive at customs, I get to go straight to the family express lane and am out of there in seconds. Brazilians understand that small kids and long lines just don't mix well :)
Totally agree, you can spot the expat kids a mile off. My sister and I were like that once -we used to recite the captain's greeting and safety instructions on the plane.....
MsCaroline said…
Trish - yes, kids who travel frequently (for whatever reason)are definitely easy to spot. Son#2 got pulled from the queue in Japan for a patdown and extra search on the way home and it was a bit surprising how casually he took it in stride - probably much better than most adults would have! As far as the family bosoms go - it was wonderful to see everyone, and we really did have a great time, but living out of a suitcase for 6 weeks can take the shine off just about any trip, I think!
MsCaroline said…
Emma - Yes, it was wonderful to see everyone, but I was very grateful to get home to my own bed by the end of the 6 weeks! It was actually pretty funny on the last flight home - you could pick out the expat families immediately, and watching them unload their boxes at the baggage claim confirmed my suspicions!
MsCaroline said…
Outbound - Wow, that's a great deal! We always find ourselves in the bathroom the night before the flight trying to figure out how much the bags weigh - 70# sounds like heaven! We have also found that it's much cheaper to go ahead and pay for an extra bag or two than it is to pay overweight fees - live and learn!
I don't know if Korea has a special line for families with small kids, since mine are teenagers. It seems like a wonderful (and very humane!) idea, though!
MsCaroline said…
NVG- ha - so was I! For years I had a little collection of Pan Am and TWA bags and pins that were always handed out to the child passengers - no idea where all that got to - it's probably worth a fortune on eBay now!
Stacy said…
Spot on as usual, Caroline! Your final photo almost made me snort coffee out of my nose. I feel like I have said that to you before. Maybe I need to stop reading your posts when I am enjoying my morning coffee. Anyway, thanks for the laugh and baring our expat lives for the world to enjoy! :)

MsCaroline said…
Stacy - It does seem like I keep ruining your morning coffee, doesn't it? Maybe I should consider a disclaimer of some sort..

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