What is home for me?
At first thought, home for me is where my family and loved ones are. But after thinking more deeply and reflecting on how the ways I have created a sense of home in three continents and four countries, my definition of home has evolved. I think:
Home is physically the space I live in where I can rest and recover from the daily stresses of life; home is where I can be comfortable and just be myself; during the pandemic, home is also the place I work that best allows me to pursue my goals in life.
Through moving around the world, I have learned the ability to establish my home anywhere I go. I also have the confidence that wherever life will lead me, I will be able to feel like home. Let me first tell you a little bit about my background, and then I will delve deeper into how I create my "home" despite always away from home.
I was born in Zheng Zhou, China -- my first home. When I was five, my family and I moved to Budapest, Hungary for my father's job. For college, I moved again to Minneapolis, MN, and also stayed for more than three months various other states (Virginia, California) for my internships. Since the pandemic started, I moved to Boston, MA where my boyfriend works and have been living here for over 9 months now.
My Home in China (1993 - 1997)
Although China will always be my home in the sense that is where I was born, where all my relatives live in (except my immediate family), I have almost no memory of living there because I was too young. I only remember two concrete things: One of my earliest memories of my childhood was living with my grandparents', it was Chinese New Year, and crying in the bedroom because I was terrified of the fire crackers outside. Another memory is when my mum visited me at my grandparents' place and I dreamed that my mum was going to leave me (some separation anxiety there) and I woke up crying with my mum besides me.
My memories of China after moving to Budapest, Hungary are fractured, made up of summer and winter holidays throughout my childhood and middle-school years. Although I barely lived in China and don't have much memories of living there either, I have always loved to go back to my motherland. The Chinese snacks, food, the small local stationary shops, and just seeing Chinese characters written everywhere, on the billboards, on the packaging of snacks made me so excited and made me feel like home. I remember telling my mum how I wished in a perfect world, I could live in a place where my school, my friends, my house in Hungary and my relatives and favorite little shops in China, restaurants are all in one place!
I think Chinese food is probably the key thing that connects me to my home in China. Wherever I go, as long as I can get some Chinese food, I feel at home.
My Home in Budapest, Hungary & Prague Czech Republic (1997 - 2012)
If someone asks me where I am from, my answer is usually: I was born in China and then grew up in Hungary. Since I grew up with my parents and brother and so far, spent the majority of my life (13 years) in Hungary, it most closely resembles the most traditional definition of home. Nevertheless, now that I've been away from my home in Budapest for over 8 years, I find myself referring that place to "my home in Budapest" and not simply "my home". Adding another layer of complexity to my home, is that for around 10 years out of the 13 years I was in Hungary, my dad worked in Prague and commuted back and forth every 2-3 weeks. We also paid frequent visits, usually during school holidays to live with my dad in his apartment in Prague. So Prague was like our "holiday inn" but also felt like another home.
My sense of home in Hungary is mostly defined by my parents, my brother, and my parents' close friends who saw me growing up.
Last New Year, my parents had to fly back to China to attend my grandpa's funeral. My brother and I were invited to dinners at our closest friends' homes and we also spent New Year's Eve with one family. Although my parents were not around, my parents' friends made us feel at home by cooking us Chinese food and talking to us in Chinese.
Hungarian food also connects me to my home in Hungary. In the U.S., whenever I get Eastern European food and eat salamis and hams, I feel at home. I also learned to cook Gulyás soup, cabbage rolls, and Pogácsa to cure my Hungarian homesickness. It is only after I left Budapest and then came back to visit that I realized how beautiful my city is (the chain bridge by the Danube, castles) and how tasty the cakes and pastries are! Nowadays, when I go back, I enjoy rediscovering all the gems of Budapest as a tourist, which is a new perspective I have developed towards my home.
Now that I'm away from home, I make sure to connect with my family every week on video-chat.
My Home in Minneapolis, MN (2012-09 - 2020-03)
I left Budapest to study psychology in college in Minneapolis, MN and ended up staying for my PhD as well. Living there for almost 8 years as an adult and first time being away from parents, I feel like Minneapolis is the first home I established for myself in the U.S.. Although Minnesota is physically the coldest place I've lived in, I had the warmest memories there. This is the place that I met the love of my life, got to pursue my passion in psychology and met several key mentors of my life that continue to help me to this day. I think the reason I felt at home there is because I found a partner whom I could be myself with, I was able to pursue exactly what I wanted to do in life at that time, to study and conduct research in psychology; I also made great friends that I think will last for a lifetime.
Minneapolis feels like home because it is a place that allowed me to pursue my passions and create lifelong bonds with people.
My Advice for Finding Your Sense of Home Anywhere You Go
💡 Find a sense of belonging. To feel a sense of belonging in a new place, you need to connect with people and communities who share the same goals and values with you. So you really need to know yourself. What are your interests and hobbies? What is your career goal? For example, if you just graduated and moved to a new place, find out if there is a local alumni association from your college that you could join; if your hobby is playing tennis, join a local tennis club; if you are passionate about helping others, find some volunteer opportunities. Personally, I have always had a passion for positive psychology and ways to live a more fulfilling and happy life, so I joined The New Happy online community that brings together people like me who are also interested in living a happy life.
💡 Learn to make your favorite food. If you're like me and food makes you feel at home, then learn to cook your favorite food, or go to a restaurant that can cook your favorite food whenever you feel extra homesick!
💡 Surround yourself with things that remind you of home. Are there any items from your childhood that sparks joy and bring back fond memories? Bringing some of these sentimental items with you when you move away from home will help you connect with your old self and feelings of sense of home. Last time I went back home, I brought my plush little dog and bear with me to the U.S. They bring on a smile every-time I look at them.
💡 When you are homesick, think again: Are you really missing your home? If you've left your home for many years now, your home probably has changed and so did you. So even if you go back, it will not be the same home and you will not be perfectly happy either. When you are feeling homesick, think again, are you really missing home or merely something associated with home: the people, the food, or your carefree and happy childhood?
So just call your loved ones if you miss them, learn to cook your favorite food by getting the recipe from your mom and try to find happiness in your current life by engaging in activities you enjoy or keep busy pursue your life goals.
I hope this post has inspired you to reflect on what home means to you and how you can develop the ability to establish a sense of home no matter where you are in your journey!
Sometimes a shift in perspective is all we need. So I'd like to leave you with one last thought: As humans, we all live on Planet Earth (at least for now!), so we are always at home, right?
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