Ask MsCaroline: Expat Life: Home Leave
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
sweatpantscomfortable 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 exitdeplane 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 hoursfor 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):