This week among my volunteer group, there have been many great conversations about travel, self-discovery, past experiences, and the notion of ‘home’. That last subject is one that I stumble upon often as someone who has lived a fairly nomadic lifestyle. Usually, the most difficult question I encounter when I meet someone is “where are you from?” Even after 26 years, I’m not sure if I prefer to say where I was born (Amherst, MA), where I spent the most time (this is an iffy one as there a few close contenders), or where I identify with the most (here, I’m simply at a loss). So I contemplate some of the different definitions and sayings that we have regarding ‘home’:
- “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household” – dictionary definition.
- “there is nothing like staying at home for real comfort” – Jane Austen
- home is where the heart is – proverb
- “the ache for our home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned” – Maya Angelou
- “home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in” – Robert Frost
And much like I cannot commit myself to a place, I cannot commit myself to a definition. The traditional dictionary definition loses me six words in with ‘permanently’; is anything really forever? Likewise, Austen’s notion of home rules out my personal belief that you can find comfort in the unknown, in travel, and adventure. The other two poets and the over-used proverb, ring the most true to me; there is safety, love, and family in a home. But where is this home? Where do you belong if your family and the one’s you love are spread out around the world and settled into places you cannot imagine living?
As a child we lived abroad and went to international schools, where we would meet families from all over the world. Often, we were not living in the same atmosphere or environment that my mother grew up with on the East coast of the US, nor my father who grew up in Romania and Israel. Dr. Ruth Useem, an American sociologist and anthropologist, developed the term “third culture kid” to describe children who grew up in a different culture from both of their parents due to living abroad during their developmental years. Essentially, I grew up as part of a community of outsiders; we belonged by not belonging, and there are positives (“expanded worldview”) and negatives (“confused loyalties”) to this experience. I cannot simply say, “I am from here and this is who and what I am” but when I meet someone who is also a Third Culture Kid, I can look at them and say “I am like you” and that is something remarkable enough in itself.
Let me bring these thoughts to the present, to the title question of this post. I have been in the Philippines for over a month and a couple of days ago I experienced my first little tinge of sadness, some form of homesickness or longing, for what… I am not entirely sure. I am absolutely in love with the life I am able to lead here and the work that I am preparing to do as a Peace Corps Volunteer for the next two years. But I heard a voice message with my little brother’s voice saying my name and I admit, I cried a little. So can I be homesick without a home? I say, yes and no. There is no other place, no physical presence, that I am longing to be in right now… do I miss a house? Certainly not. But I love and miss my family, my dear friends, old companions, some days it is just more than others; some days I long for no one and nothing, some days I long for them all.
Sunday started as a day of longing and it was heavy, then something wonderful happened. I got my first two letters from friends, one from Florida and one from England, and the little hole that was in my heart was mended. A home may be a physical entity, but love and friendship and family are not. You can be several thousand miles away but hearing someone’s voice or reading their words can put them in the same room, make you whole again, and bring your body home. Perhaps, the answer to my adventure searching for home, is finding that I don’t need one at all. Or maybe, my home already exists, within me and within the people I love.
If you have read this post and know someone living far away, volunteering with the Peace Corps or travelling on their own, give them a call, write them a letter! These letters picked me up when I didn’t even realize I needed it most, so you never know what your kind words could do to save someone’s day. If you are interested in writing to me, please send to the address below (I have come stocked with stationary for responding!):
Stav Thea Friedman
c/o Peace Corps
6/F PNB Financial Center
Macapagal Blvd, Pasay City
Thanks for reading!