When I was abroad last semester at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, Pembroke Street, the college's magazine had an issue all about the theme of “home.”
It was an interesting idea and an apt topic for my temporary displacement overseas, but — being too lazy at the time — I didn’t contribute to the magazine.
I did, however, read all the articles, many of which had been written by my new friends. Some of them discussed the globalization of home: the increasing ease of travel leading to the ever-expanding borders of what we can call home. Others elaborated on the flexibility of the word, how any space, however small or unconventional — like, say, a bedroom — can be made a home, as long as a certain level of comfort and familiarity exists. Still, others wrote about a nomadic experience — how home is what we make it, as long as we allow ourselves to make it ours.
They were all good articles, and I don’t mean to disparage anyone. Yet, I couldn’t help feel incredibly dissatisfied with the unanimous message emerging from the articles.
All of the articles carried a similar idea: Home is a place that makes us feel comfortable, which is a place linked to security and knowledge. Home is a present-tense, in-the-moment creation that is born and shaped only while we are there.
It felt like a rather tired, cliche thought. Home being anywhere that makes us glow just thinking about it is a concept that has been pounded and expounded by moviemakers, Christmas carols and Hallmark cards the world over. Maybe, also, it was time for a fresh definition that captures the nuances of home.
Moreover, I felt uneasy myself, since I have never felt truly at home in any place. Growing up in Augusta, Ga., was lonely and alienating — the very opposite of comfort, even though it was my home. Philadelphia, though I’ve lived here for four years and know the area fairly well, has given me some of my saddest moments and disappointed me. It, too, I am reluctant to declare home.
If home was limited to a place where we felt comfortable, and our spirit felt at sync with the surroundings, then what would that mean for me, and I’m sure for many others, for whom that place doesn’t exist? Are we now all homeless?
In search of truth, I turned to the sacred text of the English language: the Oxford English Dictionary. Unfortunately for me, the first definitions supported that same old concept of home. So, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I suppose I’ll just have to propose my own.
Home is any place that defines us. It is any place that has changed or formed our character, and made us more the person we are today, no matter how long we have stayed there or how comfortable we have felt. Home informs us of who we are and helps us understand ourselves better in reflection, not the other way around. It is a term that can only come into being once we go through an experience and connect that experience then to us now.
I have been lucky enough to call four places home now — Augusta, Ga., Philadelphia, Pa., Tours, France, and Cambridge, U.K. The common thread among all of them was the sense of self they armed me with.
Augusta has kept my feet planted on the ground and my priorities in line. Philadelphia liberated my individuality and expanded my expression. Tours showed me how to appreciate the simple things and stoked my unabashed love of beauty. Finally, Cambridge heightened my intellectual prowess and personal valuing of friendship.
I may not have always been happy in all those locations, I may have felt slightly out of place and I may not even have spent that much time in all of them. Nevertheless, I came away with a more fully formed mold of who I am.
While we may not always be able to feel comfortable somewhere, we can always take something away. That’s what gives all of us a claim to a home.
So forget comfort, forget the perfect place and the end of the yellow brick road; it’s all Neverland. There is a home waiting inside each and every one of us. We only have to know ourselves first to recognize it.
AMY CHAN is a College senior from Augusta, Ga., studying classics. Her email address is email@example.com. “Chances Are” usually appears every other Thursday.
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