Sunset over a Goan beach near the restaurant of a family friend.

On defining home.

Where’s home? Is it where we were born? Is it where we live now? Is it where we’ve spent most of our time? Do we even need a home?

Let me be clear; I’m not talking about houses. You might have a villa in Sevilla or a place in the Hamptons (if you do, let’s be friends?) but that’s not what we think of when we think of “home”. What are you thinking of right now? Silver skyscrapers or lush green fields or flat wide desert? “Home” is a powerful, evocative and highly emotional word for many people. If you were born and raised in the place where you live now, then you probably have a very clear, well-defined idea of where home is; the trouble arises because people who don’t fit this description often have a hard time convincing others that it’s acceptable to have multiple hometowns or even no concept of a geographical location called “home” at all.

In the battle between nature and nurture, home falls into the latter category. It needs time to evolve. We need time to construct it. As children we have no control over where or how we live, and the choices made by our parents or guardians form the concept that we eventually attach to the word “home”. This is why, socially speaking, it can be a divisive and thorny topic with an unachievable ideal. Everybody has a different experience, a different view on what works and what doesn’t. The key is to remember that everyone’s opinions are equally valid in the debate; we learn to accept new lifestyles and techniques in the hope that we can find the perfect combination to apply to our own lives.

Generally, travelling is considered a fairly normal hobby; whether it’s a family visit to the countryside or a month backpacking around south-east Asia, most people expect to travel at some point in their lives. However, travelling as a lifestyle is a different beast altogether – alien, undesirable and riddled with problems. This is particularly evident when we consider parents with travel-intensive jobs (diplomats, journalists, military professionals), who are without exception brutally criticised for failing to provide their children with that holy grail of domestic anchors: the “stable home”. The assumption seems to be that if we don’t have one, static hometown during our childhood, we will find it infinitely harder to make any kind of meaningful connection to the rest of the world. We forsake friends and extended family. We become completely unable to relate to the cultural references and regional idiosyncrasies of any one area. Without ties to a single city, state or country we are lost, unloved and unwanted by the entire world. We have nowhere to belong to, nowhere to retreat to, nowhere to run to.

In practice, that theory just isn’t true. Having moved house and home 15 times across cities, countries and continents, my sense of identity is stronger now than it ever has been. I am intensely proud to be able to define myself through multiple cultures and nationalities. My speech reflects a multitude of regional affectations and my political views are a melting pot of the major issues affecting every one of my “homes”. I will always be a huge advocate of the nomadic lifestyle because its advantages are countless. When we don’t belong anywhere, we have no restrictions; we’re completely free to move to wherever suits us best, rather than being forced to accept the country or culture our parents chose. When we have nowhere to retreat to, we’re forced to be brave; we strike out on our own and create our own paths through life. We may have nowhere to run to, but that problems fades into insignificance when we are able to make a home anywhere and everywhere.

We’ve been told that home is where the heart is, home is where we belong, home is being with the people whom we love and who love us. If these age-old sayings are true, then it shouldn’t matter where our current passport was issued; we’re placing the emphasis on people, memories and emotional connections rather than our postal address. So why do some people find it so hard to accept that home can be both fluid and manifold? Geographically speaking, there’s a lot to be said for a nomadic vision of home. After all, national borders are just arbitrary lines that have been gradually altered over thousands of years; as globalisation expands, national limitations slowly but surely begin to lose their meaning. Thanks to the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, residents of one European Union member country are able to travel, work and live in any other EU country; this is a prime example of truly groundbreaking, forward-thinking, innovative foreign policy. When I’m older, I want to live in a world where immigration law has advanced to the point that our rights to work, live and vote don’t have to be controlled by where we were born or where our parents lived. Why restrict ourselves to one home when we can have many?

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11 thoughts on “On defining home.

  1. Really interesting! I wondered if you had come across any of the info about ‘third culture’ kids. When I was living in China there was a lot of talk about children in the international schools having issues and struggling to find their identity when they were Australians who had never lived in Australia for example. It’s a really interesting topic – thanks for writing on it!

    1. Hi Clare! Thanks for the tip about ‘third culture’ kids – I’ve just given it a quick Google and it looks like there’s loads of great material out there, I’ll get busy reading. Glad you like the article and that you’ve seen the many definitions of home as well!

  2. Really thought provoking piece! Having lived abroad for just over three years now, I’ve often thought about how I define home. Is it back in the UK, where I lived for 23 years and where most of my friends and family are? Or is it in Switzerland, where I moved with my fiance 3 years ago and the place in which we are building a future of ourselves.

    Honestly, depending on my mood it can be one or the other! But most of the time it is both. I no longer feel defined by international borders that as you suggest, ultimately mean very little. I am not English, or Swiss, or even European. I am simply myself, and I think it’s a fantastic way to be.

    1. Hi Ben! So happy you liked the article, I’m a big fan of your blog myself. I’m glad you feel able to break convention and find your own definitions, it seems silly to let predefined borders hold us back.

      I’m interested by what you said about not needing to define yourself as ‘European’ though – national identity seems like a very natural concept to several of my friends, but I wonder how many people would be comfortable defining themselves by continent?

      Maybe a thought for another post. In any case, thanks for reading!

      1. I think with the EU, open borders and the Euro it will become much more common to think of Europe as one block, similar to the US. I think the UK is the obvious exception to the rule. My experience tells me that people on the continent like the idea of Europe as a whole. Assuming that the EU survives politically!

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