The Unfamiliarity of Home

When we travel, whether it’s for college, work, or vacation, there will be at least a few people who ask “Where are you from?” And the answer to this is easy, sometimes even instant. You might have answered with the state you were born in, the town where you lived, and maybe even your country of origin to all those you have met internationally. Answering this question is like getting caught in a daydream: easy. 

But very rarely are we asked “Where is home?” Now for some people, this might be another simple and easy question. Once again, they answer with a state, a town, country, the same as above. But for myself, as I collected more stamps in my passport and heard languages I couldn’t understand, the concept of home changed and left me in an unexpected state of confusion.

Not everyone has the luxury to board an airplane and travel across the country, say from California to New York. It is even more difficult, then, making an international flight, no matter where you depart from in the world. But from the age of fourteen until the summer after my high school graduation, I had walked upon international soil for a total of two months (each trip roughly about two weeks at a time).

Although I stayed home for college, these international trips during my high school career made me realize something: that the world is much bigger than I thought. While living on an island in the middle of the ocean, I had very limitted choices: beaches, a scenic hike, or a twenty minute drive to the nearest shopping center. I had no opportunity to go on an epic road trip with my friends, no way to cross the border to Canada or Mexico, nor could I go upstate on a mere whim. I had not thought of this until after I traveled abroad; that the world has more to offer than being surrounded by water.

Even though these trips lasted a mere two weeks at a time, the places that I visited oddly left me feeling more at home than my actual home. It was a strange sensation at first, how easily I considered that these places could become my home. Maybe not in the current moment, but eventually. And by the age of eighteen, I started to feel the unfamiliarity of home, like an invisible hand slowly tightening its grasp around my neck. The longer I stayed, the more I felt suffocated, the more I began to loathe my hometown. I frantically tried to search for the comfortability I had once felt as a child. I tried to find it in family, friends, and memories. But the apparent void in my chest began to expand and required more space to call home – just like me.

The unfamiliarity of home is a difficult feeling to cope with, I think. When it comes, you’re faced with two options. The first is to make the bold decision to pack up your bags and leave. The destination can be wherever your heart desires but the end goal is to leave. For some people it might be for a few years, for others it can be for the rest of their life. The very act of leaving carries a significant weight and usually symbolizes the start of a new chapter in life. Of course, once you leave you will miss your previous home. And that’s the thing about leaving; you can’t leave without creating a sense of nostalgia. This is necessary in order to escape the unfamiliarity of home.

So if the first option is to leave, then the second option is to ultimately stay. And this is probably the easiest decision. The cop out decision. Your heart craves for unknown sidewalks, late night taxi rides, a city that isn’t your hometown. However, you decide to stay in an unfamiliar home, constantly visualizing where you should be and wondering why you haven’t left yet. Although staying is probably the easiest decision, it is likely the most difficult to overcome.

For a while now, I have firmly believed that I am a lost soul in search of a permanent home. That my trips abroad have left me with more of a sense of wanting than satisfaction. Perhaps I could categorize this feeling under wanderlust and maybe it’s just that: an insatiable desire to travel the world. Maybe little pieces of myself remained behind sitting on a bar stool, nodding to the bartender for one last drink but ends up ordering one more and the cycle repeats.

But no. This cannot be merely a feeling of wanderlust. The unfamiliarity has settled in, like a layer of dust on a forgotten bookcase. It is visible, apparent, and has taken up residence within. But with a heavy heart, I came to a conclusion, an obvious conclusion that has plagued my heart since the age of eighteen: this place no longer feels like home.