How my definition of “home” has evolved over the years

Guest post by Jacquelinamy
A little slice of snowy kisses, California sunshine and Honduran jungle in our new Kuwaiti home.
A little slice of snowy kisses, California sunshine and Honduran jungle in our new Kuwaiti home.

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.

Comments on How my definition of “home” has evolved over the years

  1. I totally have nothing to add to this, just wanted to echo the sentiment in the last two paragraphs: absolutely. I love this post! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  2. When I was a child, I used to tease my mother about the fact that, when we flew out to Oklahoma (where she grew up) to visit her parents she called it “going home” both directions.

    But now, as an adult, it makes perfect sense to me. It turns out that “home” is a surprisingly complex, flexible and non-exclusive concept.

    Also, having moved three times in the last four years (All within the same city, more or less), I’ve been surprised at how quickly a new apartment can become home. If my bed and my comfy chair and my food and my husband are there and it has a shower and internet, I feel pretty much at home.

  3. I was just think about this the other day. I, too, have many places I consider “home”. I think it is because I used to move at least once a year for 10 years. I also wanted to agree with you about how you can’t make a place be Home, it has to sneak up on you. I have been living in the same house for two years now and it is just starting to actually feel like it is one of my Homes.

    I always thought about it as if there can be an address your stuff is at, but that doesn’t mean it is your home.

  4. We moved around a lot when I was a kid. It resulted in many places being “home”. Some I liked more than others, mostly dependant on the happy and/or sad memories associated with the places. When I moved out on my own, I was never really happy with the places that I lived. I ended up moving 10-12 times in about a 2 year period. My husband and I bought our first house a few years back, and it has become “home”. I’ve lived there longer than I’ve lived anywhere. The longest I remember living in one house as a kid is about 4 years. It is not perfect, but it is home with the hubby and all my fur/feathered babies.

    • My mother had to move all over the Midwest to get a degree in civil engineering and find a decent job in her field, so my parents and I rarely stayed in one place for more than a year or two. As a result, my definition of “home” is extremely fluid: it’s pretty much just wherever my stuff happens to be at the time, and where I go at the end of the day to retreat from the rest of the world. Now that I’ve moved out and am living with my girlfriend, I find myself wondering if I even know how to “settle down,” or if all that moving early in life has made me into some kind of restless nomad.

      • I’ve been known to confuse people by referring to almost any place I stay for more than one night as home while I’m there. (I even managed to make myself ‘at home’ in a homeless shelter for a time.)
        I think the ability to make any place home is a blessing, and very different from the INability to make any place home.

        • Wow! What a great gift – the ability to make any place a home. I think I have become much better at it, but it is still a struggle for me to make certain places home. I really love traditions – and sometimes it is hard to make “traditions” with groups of new people (especially if their culture is so different from my own). For instance, I LOVE weekly wine and girl nights – but Kuwait is a dry country – so it just doesn’t have the same feel…
          That said, I still think the benefits of new experiences outweigh the struggles.

          • That might be one of the advantages of being an extreme introvert; I’m content with my own company.
            Not to say that I’m misanthropic (I don’t think…) but most of the time I have to feel ‘at home’ before I can be comfortable around other people, rather than the other way around.
            And home is always where my dog is. 😉

    • So I am curious – what made that house finally become ‘home’? Especially since you never really felt at home anywhere else? Is it because you bought it? Or because you are with your husband and fur babies? Or is it something else? I just can’t figure out why sometimes I can slip right into ‘home’ and other times I can stay there 3 years and still feel like an outsider…

      • I think a combination of my husband and my furbabies. I think my “bird-child” (Umbrella Cockatoo) and developing a chronic pain syndrome attributed to it. Cockatoos need a TON of attention, and I always feel guilty when I leave him alone to long, so it being at home to care for him and give him the attention he needs helped me to get over the “restless” feeling I would get that would drive me out and away from home. Most of all though, I think I just became happy with who I am and stopped trying to be someone I was not. Also, when you deal with limited energy and can end up in major pain if you don’t take care of yourself, you are forced to be honest. I used to be a “yes” girl and try everything. When I had to become honest, I had to analyze the things I do and see if I really had time in my life for them. I no longer could worry about being a “people pleaser”, I had to put me and my family first.

  5. Lovely piece! I was moved around a lot as a kid, and though I swore I would never do the same to my children, lo and behold, life had other things in store, and we have moved frequently (our 11y/o daughter has lived in six states). I’ve tried to teach my children to find and get the best out of where ever you are. But it is odd how some places (towns and houses) can quickly feel comfortable, while others never really do.

  6. We *just* returned to Indonesia after a few weeks visiting friends and family in the States. Upon returning to Indonesia, and readjusting to the climate and time change and lifestyle, I was having the *exact* same thoughts.

    I’ve never been much of a nomad, but my husband and I have been expats for over 4 years now. I left my childhood hometown at 17 to move to Seattle and never looked back.

    Early in my expat days, I struggled with wrapping my mind around the concept of where ‘home’ was.

    When I was a child and teenager and right after I moved to Seattle, ‘home’ was definitely still at my parents’ house in my Northern California hometown.

    And then, at some point, it shifted. Seattle became my ‘home’ and it stayed that way for over a decade.

    And then we moved to Indonesia and, slowly, this became ‘home’.

    But then my concept of ‘home’ shifted. No where is ‘home’. Everywhere is ‘home’. There is a piece of me left behind in each place I have called home, but I also carry each of my homes with me.

    There are people and places and things I miss about my life in my hometown. About my life in Seattle. And, if we left Indonesia, there would be people and places and things that I missed about here, too.

    It sounds corny, but when people ask me if I ever feel homesick, I can honestly answer ‘no’. Because home isn’t just where I came from. It’s where I am. And where I’m going.

    • I love this response (also love, that you, too, are Norcal native) – it is so great to know other people can relate.

      Most of the people I work with are on their first year or so abroad, so they really can’t understand why I consider Kuwait “home”. They have progressed through the “honeymoon” stage of living abroad and are firmly encamped in the “frustration/rage” stage. They compare everything to North America and everything comes up short.

      I remember feeling this way, but at this point in my life, I am just SO glad to be past it. I love your final lines. “…home isn’t just where I came from. It’s where I am. And where I’m going.” So absolutely true!

  7. Although I still live with my parents, as I have for the past 23 years, for the past few years I have identified “home” as wherever my fiance is…which unfortunately means that more often than not, my home is on the opposite side of the country! However, it is enormously reassuring that in a year or so, when his military contract is up, we will have our very first home together–and my home will finally be home with me.

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