In some ways I’m very adventurous, in others I’m a bit of a homebody. But when continent-hopping is a way of life, that begs the question – where is home?
Two days ago I landed in Portugal from visiting my family in my childhood house in Florida. Florida isn’t my birthplace, that’s Hawaii (and whenever I visit there, it feels like home too) but it’s where I’ve grown up and spent the most time, so when I think of home, my mind travels automatically there. But when I arrived at the house in Portugal where I lived for six months recently, it felt automatically familiar. I slid back into the rhythm of things with ease, I noticed little details out of place that one would only catch due to an intense intimacy – the scissors not stuck to their magnetic strip on the wall, some new plastic cups in the cupboard. So this feels like home too, even though I’m only briefly here before going back -home- to London, to the same room that I occupied for a year during university, to a house with cats and people I love.
So which of these places is home, really? All, of course. But when I’m feeling down, depressed and Dorothy-esque and think fervently “I want to go home” where do I mean, exactly? I suppose this dilemma is a diluted version of what “third culture kids” must feel about their identities. These are children who (increasingly in such a globalised society) are born to parents of different nationalities and then brought up, perhaps due to a career abroad, in an entirely different third one. Where do they consider home? Where are they most comfortable? Often, they are viewed as foreigners in each place. But as an expat, this confusion is not inborn, but elected. And it also has its benefits. With the increased connectivity and distribution of information in recent years, and prevalence and precedence of Western media, cultural disparities can appear less stark than they used to. Therefore, amid such homogenisation,these little culture shocks are good for us, I think; they remind me how big and diverse the world really is, and, though they can sometimes overwhelm, remind me of the possibilities life holds in different locations.
So, are internationals simply home-greedy?
Maybe, but feeling at home somewhere is often harder than expected. I have certainly felt this in some scenarios. My mom has a favourite saying – “Wherever you go there you are,” while true to the extent that one can’t escape internal struggles for long, I believe the “wherever” can have a lot to do with quality of life. Some places I expected to feel at home in I never did, like Philadelphia or Portland, and others I desperately wanted to fit into I still found tricky.
So instead the traveller find bits of home in a new place, a church choir, a language group, a poetry writing workshop, or an online community like Expat Coffee Club.
When I titled this post I wrote, “Home is where the ? is,” thinking I’d fill in the blank once I’d finished writing. I’m fond of rhyming – “Home is where the start is,” the origins of yourself, a hometown or childhood house? “Home is where the art is,” where you feel most creative, productive and inspired? Or the traditional “heart,” where your family is or where your love takes you. But, perhaps it’s just that – a question mark. Home is where the curiosity is, the unanswered question, the continuing story…