MAKING A HOME ABROAD

MakingHomeMy Italian roommate quietly taps her wrist against my closed bedroom door. I don’t raise my eyes from my laptop.

“You can come in.”

The door creaks lightly. She’s going out, she says, and she’ll be back before dark. I look to her, smile, and wish her well before shifting my eyes back to my screen.

“By the way, you look very comfortable,” she remarks softly as she closes the door behind her.

My fingers lift from the keyboard. It was a simple phrase, but it took me by surprise. I suppose I do look comfortable, laying belly-down on my bed, my arms resting on my beige cotton pillow and my Macbook placed two feet in front of my face. A heavy navy blanket loosely drapes over me. Physically, I am comfy, lazily lounging in bed and writing after a long few days of running around Milan.

But it was the first time someone said I look comfortable in Italy. And well, after hearing it, I had to think about it. Am I comfortable here? Does Milan feel like home? It’s my first week living in Italy after spending four months here last year, and a lot of aspects of the transition back to Milan have been smooth sailing. I know what to buy at the market, how to navigate public transportation, and where to go without looking at a map. It’s a very natural feeling to hop on a bus, train, tram, or metro. I’m not constantly questioning myself, or even giving a second thought to any of these everyday actions.

So I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit over the past few days, wondering about all of the coined phrases that define home. Wondering if I’m there. Wondering if it’s a place, person, feeling? Is it tangible or a combination of many circumstances and comforts?

Home is where the heart is. Home is wherever I’m with you. Home is where the pants are not. Home is where the WiFi automatically connects. There’s no place like home.

And then my head goes to a million different places. In four years, I’ve lived in four states and two countries, residing in two dorm rooms, three apartments, and four houses. Sleeping on floors, couches, and beds that aren’t my own, passing through several countries, states, and cities. Maybe I’m caught in the middle of two homes, or maybe I haven’t found a permanent home yet. Maybe I never will. But I’ve found many places that feel like home, if even for the smallest moment.

So I’ve been attempting to drum up the mutual characteristics of all of my “homes.” It hasn’t been easy, especially since they span over multiple continents. But I’m listing them because sometimes those of us out there living far from a place we’ve always considered “home” need a reminder that we’re doing just fine.

Home is where you’re your natural self. My natural self is usually, as I said before, belly-down on my bed writing away. My hair is somehow surviving it’s messy nest on top of my head and I’m swallowed by my comfy pants. But beyond the physical, home is where I’m singing in the shower, curling up on the couch with the latest Southern Living, laughing at my occasional stupidity, and enjoying the freedom of being completely and naturally who I am without wondering if it will be well received.

Home is where you’re brave. This sounds a little cheese balls, I know, but bear with me. Home is where I’m free to dream and dare and have courage to think about really vague things like the future or what I’m eating for dinner tonight. Laying in my bed at night, comfortable and content, is where I dream about what’s next. Home is where I sit at my desk and type emails to editors and CEOs and publishers asking for a chance. Home is where I try on those new heels and where I make the difficult phone calls. Home is comfortable enough for me to do the things that take a little (and a lot of) extra courage.

Home is where your thoughts are unguarded. I’m not always thinking about what I say before it comes out of my mouth, which sometimes gets me in trouble. It’s where my thoughts and my words flow without hesitation. The place in which I don’t worry about how I’m perceived and the place in which my walls come down.

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pic1Home is where you’re reminded of your blessings and privileges. This may come in the form of the pictures on your walls or the little trinkets sitting on your desk. It could even be as simple as the place you always sit when you call your family. I brought encouraging notes and letters, pictures of my friends and family, pictures colored by kids I’ve nannied, my grandmother’s small cloth pig, etc. to Italy. My home is a place in which I put effort to make it feel cozy and homey. It’s warm and inviting, and it’s the first place I want to be when I’m missing certain people, places, or moments.

Home is what you consistently and thoughtlessly desire. Even if you don’t know it or even if you don’t think about it, you’ll eventually understand it. As a traveler, country hopping is always enticing for me, but at the end of a tiring week abroad, I long to lay in my own bed. Human nature desires routine, and sometimes that’s what home is for us: Routine. Familiarity. Comfort. These are things that I crave at the end of the day, when I’m tired or lonely or disheartened. I want home.

Fellow travelers, how do you define your home? Do you have any tips on making a home for yourself abroad? Let’s talk this out.