What does it mean to start a home? What does it mean to feel at home?
Just two years into living abroad, with the thrill of experiencing new places, a new culture, and a new people, I was surprised to find myself filled with the desire to put down roots and start a home. Though travel is, and will continue to be, one of my life’s greatest passions, I soon began to look forward to a day where I could buy and own things that I love in order to decorate my apartment, or to be able to establish myself in one community, one place, for a longer period of time.
In my second year abroad I had the fortune of having one of the most comforting and lovely evenings with the circle of new friends I met in Gijon, Asturias. It was casual- an open mic night at a local restaurant where we were
practically family with the owners and workers. We were there to support two friends that were performing.
Everyone came, including those we hadn’t seen in a while. I left that evening feeling so happy and grateful; I had truly felt “at home” in a way that I hadn’t since moving to Spain.
Curious about this idea of home, I watched a TED Talk by Pico Iyer. In it he says that a home “…is not just the place where you happen to be born. It’s the place where you become yourself.”
Now my first thought when I hear “home” is my parents’ house in New York. But then I also think of Costa Rica, the first place in which I truly felt that I belonged. I find there’s so much truth to what Iyer says. I count Costa Rica as one of my homes for this very reason. It was in this country that I returned to my true self that I didn’t know had existed before. I discovered a different side of who I was, who I was trying to get to know, but couldn’t quite figure out how.
And yet there I was, already establishing roots in Spain and seeking to settle down, but unsure where…attempting to think of the ideal circumstances or situations or country where I could see myself long term. My idea of laying down roots and starting a home seems to be linked to having one concrete place to stay in. According to society, don’t I, at some point, have to settle on one location and stay there indefinitely?
While it is important to be happy with where you live and I feel so blessed to have the freedom to make that decision, I begin to question what exactly my definition of home is. After all, was I not feeling at home in Gijon? I was. I just shared an experience that proves that. As I walked the streets of the city and discover new parts, and wandered the familiar, I realized that the city was becoming my home. Yet I knew it was temporary, and that soon, I would have to find another, as my teaching position came to an end, and my student visa expired.
In the same TED talk Iyer speaks of young travelers he meets abroad, “…they have one home associated with their parents, but another associated with their partners, a third connected maybe with the place where they happen to be, a fourth connected with the place they dream of being, and many more besides. And their whole life will be spent taking pieces of many different places and putting them together into a stained glass whole. Home for them is really a work in progress. It’s like a project on which they’re constantly adding upgrades and improvements and corrections.”
I love this image of a stained glass whole. Is this not what I’m doing myself? Rather than looking at my moving around from place to place as broken fragments that don’t seem to make sense, I should be looking at them as these beautiful individual pieces, that I am putting together piece by piece that will eventually, whenever that day comes, come together to form a stunning whole.
As for the urge for a concrete and tangible location, Iyer shares his experience of how his house burned down and he lived on friends’ couches. When people asked where his home was he says, “I literally couldn’t point to any physical construction. My home would have to be whatever I carried around inside me.”
And that for me, is the biggest message that I take away from his lecture. I’ve realized that feeling at home, while it is heavily influenced by the place in which you live, is being at home with yourself internally. I can’t keep searching outside of myself, waiting for the “perfect” circumstances or a discovery of the “perfect” city. Home is actually a place that is not tangible.
Lastly, Iyer gives a hypothetical example of two multi-racial people living in countries different from their own having a daughter. He says, “…potentially, everything about the way that young woman dreams about the world, writes about the world, thinks about the world, could be something different, because it comes out of this almost unprecedented blend of cultures. Where you come from now is much less important than where you’re going.”
I have struggled for years with the fact that I do not know where the majority of my biological family comes from. I do not know my family history. I become envious when those around me can look back into their families and know their roots. I am multi-racial, but I have been trying to discover what that means for me with no history to help me formulate my answer. I have been trying to understand where I come from instead of where I’m going.
What fortune I then have if I look at it from the perspective of seeing the world in such a different way! How lucky I am to be creating this stained glass window that is an unprecedented blend of cultures! As the world progresses and globalization continues, it’s no longer simply about what country you were born in. It’s not simply about being an American citizen, a German citizen, a Spanish citizen. It’s about being a global citizen. And that means a make-up of different blends of cultures and experiences and, yes, races. It means that all of those pieces that I do know about my family come together to form a whole with the pieces I am collecting now in Spain, and those that I have collected in Costa Rica, and those that I will continue to collect wherever my next stop may be.
I hope to remember, and I struggle to be, appreciative and grateful for my circumstances that allow me to undertake this journey of re-defining the concept of “home.”