The ever-changing concept of ‘home’ for travelers 

For some, seeing the world is not just an option– it’s a necessity. 

Through the past few years of traveling, I have determined that the concept of home is always transforming. For adventure-seekers like myself, the very definition of home doesn’t necessarily exist. When you’re constantly in motion, you learn to make a home within yourself, the people you meet, and the new places you fall in love with. 

We hear all the time that home is where the heart is. The reality is that I’ve left my heart in so many places in the past few years of studying abroad. I have seen over 15 countries in three years, and would argue that I’ve left a little piece of myself in each one, with some pieces larger than others. Ireland, for example, has served as my stationary constant for the past three years. It is where I fell in love with learning again, as well as the place I became inspired to see as much of the world as I can. I feel most alive, secure, and confident in Ireland. I am prepared to make my return to my favorite place, with plans to stay indefinitely. 

Cliffs of Moher, September 2015

When I studied abroad for the first time three years ago, I was truly a lost soul. I spent my time controlled by my anxiety, obsessing over small details and having difficulty making friends. Making the leap to study abroad in the summer following my freshman year of college took all the courage I’d never know I had within me. This of course led to a second round of study abroad, this time, for a full academic year.

In these transformative times of adventure, I found that each city or country I visited reminded me a little of home. I had the privilege of seeing mothers playing with young children in Portugal, watching families leave places of worship together in Italy, and dancing along the shores of France among families and couples alike. No location is the same of course, but wherever you find yourself most captivated will stay with you, even long after you depart. If you’re lucky, you become a part of this place, even just for a second. 

Sligo, Ireland, November 2015

This changing definition of home is undeniably beautiful, but also terrifying. To those that don’t embark on a nomadic existence, even temporarily, the idea of securing a home within yourself and new lands will sound daunting. Eventually, this becomes second nature. The goodbyes before you depart are no longer scary, they are a part of this life you chose. There will always be strong connections where you leave behind, but your bags have been packed since the day you were born. You know you were never meant to stay in one place. 

The Realities of Reverse Culture Shock

It’s been over a year since I left Ireland after studying there, but truthfully, I’m still dealing with homesickness and some residual reverse culture shock.  I know rationally that I will be back soon, but this hiccup with my impending hip surgery has compromised my emotional state. Here are the realities of leaving the place you love, and still dealing with it over a year later:

Every Place or Conversation Pales in Comparison to What Was Once Before: After leaving an exciting and exotic location, everything in your hometown seems mundane. No person or place is as interesting as where you were before. Every minor inconvenience seems dramatized, whether that be the lack of public transportation in the US, or something as small as missing your favorite local meal. Last year, I was enjoying the streets of Dublin on St. Patrick’s day with friends that were family. This year, I sat tearfully in a country-club eating bangers and mash with my parents, trying to put on a happy face. The contrast can be overwhelming at times.

All-Encompassing Anxiety There is a study in anthropology that says that when Westerner’s travel, they are terrified of wasting time. While that’s true, I think for me, it’s when I am not traveling I fear I am wasting my life. There is so much of the world left to see, and staying at home because of an injury is frustrating. I am worried I am wasting time, my young years should be spent exploring with the one I love. Instead, I am ensnared by this hip problem, limiting my movement physically and mentally. I am confined, when I was once so adventurous. While I understand that this is just for now, I worry that the time is ticking away.

Talking About Your Experience Non-Stop I left Dublin a year ago, and it is still something I speak of multiple times a day. I talk about the coffee shops and restaurants that I miss, the places that I’ve seen, and the adventures that hold a special place in my heart. Most of all, I talk about the one I love most. Somehow, it makes it easier for me. It’s difficult to be somewhere when I know I belong somewhere else.

Little Details Hurt the Most When I went back to Dublin in December, I made a commitment to make myself to remember the smallest details, in order to carry me over until my next trip over. Even in the airport, I took note of the signs partially in English and partially in Irish, or the smell of the rain on the pavement. I can navigate the streets of Dublin in my sleep, and picture all the places that I called home for a year.

Every Minute Looks Forward to the Future There are very few moments of the day when I’m not thinking about the future. My graduate student career awaits, as does reuniting with the one I’ve loved for over a year now. I’ll be welcome there once again, this time for good and not just a visit. In the mean time, I have to fight like hell through a hip injury.

Until we meet again, Ireland… See you soon!