Why Studying Abroad Makes You Redefine “Home”
It’s more than one place. And it’s more than a place. It’s a feeling.
We’ve all heard that cliche: “Home is not a place: it’s a feeling.” As cheesy as it may sound, going abroad has made me realize the truth behind this sentiment. Home is such a blanket term. When you’re little, home has one meaning, and it means one thing. It’s that safe place you go at the end of every school day. Your parents and siblings are there, maybe your pets, or extended family. It’s where you get all of your favorite foods, and play with your favorite toys. It’s safety and security. It serves its purpose.
When you get a little older and you leave home for the first time, “home” means something entirely different. It wasn’t until I left for college that I realized “home” can be a lot of places, and it always was. I had just never taken the time to think about it. In the matter of a month, my tiny dorm room felt like home. It was full of love and laughter and friendship. It was a place I went at the end of a stressful day, a great day, and all the days in between. Pretty soon, my college itself started feeling like home. I did live there, after all. I saw the same things and the same people day in and day out. It was comforting and familiar.
And then I left home to go just a wee bit further than the mere two hours (by car) it takes to get to college. I was going abroad. 5,000 miles, a six-hour time difference, and a different continent just feels far. But there I was. On a plane to Florence, Italy. To live there. For four entire months. When the initial thrill of being in Italy wore off as I began to unpack in my new apartment (yes, MY apartment. In Italy. It still doesn’t seem real.), I was terrified. I was 5,000 miles away from home and anything familiar. It was a struggle to open the damn front door. How was I supposed to survive there for four months?
On that first day, my friends and I walked around the city, aimlessly and in the wrong direction, of the Duomo. Completely jet-lagged and loopy from our trans-Atlantic flight, we finally made it to the Duomo and nearly collapsed onto benches, way too exhausted to appreciate the enormity and the beauty of the iconic building that stood before us. It wasn’t familiar then. I hadn’t yet spent my free time eating gelato there, passed it on my way to class every day, or drunkenly stumbled past it on the way home from the bar. I had no memories there. No connection beyond just a building I’ve seen in countless pictures.
Then, the unthinkable happened. Gradually, Florence became my home. Suddenly every street seemed to have a story. Every corner felt familiar. Even the frantic feel of rapid-fire Italian didn’t seem as strange to my ears. I knew how to navigate this foreign city. The funny part was that it felt anything but foreign. After spending long weekends sitting on buses traveling Europe, I looked forward to returning to the familiarity of Florence, this city that had managed to become another place to call home in near record time.
So maybe you’re thousands of miles from familiar. You haven’t heard a language you recognize or a food you know the name of in months. You get lost on a regular basis. The concept of “home” feels further from your grasp than your actual home. That doesn’t mean you won’t find it. With enough time and the right mindset, you can find home anywhere you go.
It’s more than a place you can point to on the map.