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 everything being new again and again. And one of those difficulties is the feeling of having a “home.”
Over the last 20 years my definition of “home” has evolved. For the first 17 years of life, home was a permanent location. My parents raised us on a gorgeous ranch in Northern California. Home was as solid as the foothill oak in our front yard. My sisters and I were the sixth generation on the same land. The view out my bedroom window only changed when 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 who I would become because I knew that my home would always be there.
As I went off to university, I stayed quite close to home. I simply traveled two hours up the interstate to the welcoming town of Chico. I spent my 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 new 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 slowly I 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 hours 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 mean 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 have realized that home doesn’t have to be a house. It doesn’t have to mean I will know the people forever. It doesn’t have to fulfill every part of me. Most importantly, my idea of “home” is forever changing and that’s okay.
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 always will be, home. It is my anchor in this whirlwind life I love and I am so lucky to have that. The city of Chico will also always be home. It is my past home and our future home, and I love all the people and life that continues to grow and change in our absence.
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 and my husband is here with me.
I have realized that home doesn’t have to be a house — but it can be. It doesn’t have to mean I 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, my idea of “home” is forever changing and that’s okay, better than okay, wonderful.
My home stretches to include family and friends, to include my past, my present and my future, to include those people I see every day, those I only speak to once a year and those I may never see again. Home really is where the heart is… and my heart is spread around the world.