Thursday, April 4, 2013

Home is Where My Heart Is...

Living abroad is great for so many reasons. Meeting new people, experiencing new adventures and learning about new cultures are just a few of the perks of moving every few years, however there are difficulties with being “new” again and again. And one of those difficulties is creating a ‘home’.

Over the last 20 years my definition of ‘home’ has evolved. For the first 17 years of my life, ‘home’ was a steady never-changing location. My parents raised us on a gorgeous ranch in Northern California. ‘Home’ was as permanent as it could get. My sisters and I were the 6th generation on the same land. The view out my bedroom window only changed if we rotated rooms. Even the house color stayed the same. There is a lot to be said for permanence. It gave me the freedom to experiment with who I was and where I would live because I knew that ‘home’ would always be there.

When I went off to university, I didn’t go far. I traveled 2 hours up the interstate to the welcoming town of Chico. I spent the next 10 years there, attending school and then taking my first teaching position. At some point, ‘home’ evolved to mean the town of Chico instead of my parent’s house. ‘Home’ was now the downtown shops, the summer sunshine, long walks in the parks, days floating on the river, long boarding to the bars and the many friends I loved and depended on. Home was a city and I loved it.

When I first moved abroad I tried hard to make my new house and city, my ‘home’.  I hung photos and painted walls. I met people and ate at local places. I visited city landmarks and tried to create traditions, but I slowly came to realize that I couldn’t just make a ‘home’. It had to sneak up on me. It was a difficult realization. It meant a lot of homesickness and a lot of time worrying about what I was missing back ‘home’. It meant being hesitant about making new friends because I had ‘real’ ones back ‘home’. It meant comparing everything, and I do many everything, to ‘home’. I began to fear that the only way to make a new ‘home’ was to let go of the old one… and I didn’t want to let go of it. Not ever.

I am now currently wrapping up my fourth year of living abroad and my definition of ‘home’ has evolved again. I now realize that ‘home’ can be many places at once. My parent’s house is - and will always be -  ‘home’. It is a sense of immovability in the ever-moving life I have created and I am so lucky to have that. Chico will also always be ‘home’. It is my past ‘home’ and our future ‘home’ and I love all the people and life that is continues to grow and change there.

Most excitingly, where I am right now is ‘home’. I finally feel ‘at home’ abroad. Living in an 11th floor flat overlooking the Arabian Gulf is ‘home’. B is here with me and always will be. I have realized that ‘home’ doesn’t’ have to be a house – but it can be. It doesn’t have to mean you will know the people forever – but it is wonderful to hope for that. It doesn’t have to fulfill every part of me – but all my ‘homes’ together do. Most importantly, ‘home’ is ever changing which is okay. It stretches to include family and friends, to include my past, my present and my future, to include those people I see every day and those I only speak to once a year. Home really is where the heart is… and my heart is in so many places around the world... Lucky me.

Photos (top to bottom): Zamora sky, parent's barn (photo credit: Robin), Bidwell Park, Chico storage unit, our Honduran front yard, our Kuwaiti apartment building.

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