Moving countries is really quite a strange thing…
I’ve just returned from 2 weeks in SA (my old country) and am now back in London (my new country).
Many friends in South Africa asked me “Which feels like home now?”
It’s a hard one to answer. Mostly I replied “I think the UK feels more like home….”
I mulled it over afterwards and realised that actually, it’s our tiny 48 sq m flat that feels like home. It’s the most predictable, familiar place at the moment.
The UK itself, and even London, doesn’t quite yet feel like it’s my home. There are still too many customs I don’t know or understand. I don’t understand the tax system, the banking system is foreign, packing our own groceries (under pressure, with a line of people waiting) still feels weird, and riding in a packed tube with thousands of others who avoid eye contact still feels strange. I’m definitely used to it more than in the beginning – yet it’s not completely ‘normal’ for me.
On the other hand, SA also doesn’t feel like home anymore. I don’t have one single place to sleep there. I was in 2 different AirBnb’s in Johannesburg, and a holiday cottage in Margate. So I don’t have ‘one home’ there, yet I still feel ‘at home’ – because everything is familiar.
As introverts do, I’ve been pondering ….. where is home? How do we define it?
Is home “where the heart is” – the people we love? (Thing is… I have people both in SA and in the UK that I love very much, and my heart is still very much with my kitty in SA…)
Or… is home where we feel safe? (I definitely feel safer in the UK – in SA there’s far more crime. And yet, there are still uncertainties for me here, too. At least in SA I had an impeccable sense of direction – here in the UK I’m often clueless! The sun doesn’t even remotely rise in the same place in winter and summer.)
Or… do we take ‘home’ with us, so wherever we are, there is home?
Currently, I feel like I’m in 2 places, with each foot in a different country (and hemisphere, even…)
So below, I’m ‘at home’ in Margate, SA, and at the top, back in London – both on beautiful sunshine days. You can probably tell the difference in season by the jacket and T-shirt!
Thoughts from a Neuroscientist about Home
Shortly after I wrote about this on FB, I “happened” to be reading a chapter in an intriguing book called “Happy Brain: Where Happiness comes from and Why” by Dean Burnett.
(“Happened” in quotes, because in my world there are no coincidences.)
The chapter was about the effect of our home on our happiness – and this paragraph stood out for me immediately:
“Studies suggest a sense of continuity is necessary for a place to feel like a home, meaning we’re less likely to feel at home in a place we know we’ll be leaving relatively soon. This is why, if you have multiple addresses in a place like New York over a short time, the city itself can feel more like your home than any of the individual structures you lived in….”
I loved the clarity it brought me…. and in that case, I guess I’m more at home in London right now because I’m here to stay for a number of years.
Thoughts from Friends about Home
When I posed the question, I received some fascinating, thought-provoking answers from friends.
“We have moved so many times and my girls have moved countries for school and even left home for school in one country and came back home in another as we had moved. I have now decided home is where my family is, my dog, my cats, and my things. But this even gets tough as I have a house in JHB with more of my things. Maybe there is no cut and dried home?” From Gael.
Bridget said, “I lived out of two suitcases for 18 months, and felt totally at home doing so. Belongings don’t define us, they cause suffering – a Buddhist teaching. I’ve made peace with my gypsy nature, and now need less and less to settle and define my home space.”
“Home is where I’m most comfortable. That can change. Maybe I take my home wherever I am.”, from Barbara.
And Alison said, “I have moved country once, cities/towns quite a few times and houses so many I have lost count. So far it hasn’t taken me long at all to feel at home in any of these places. I think possibly for me home is where I am expecting to stay for a while. Having some of my own things around me does help. Right now we have a fair bit in storage as well but that doesn’t feel odd.
On a more esoteric note, people who have Earth in their Human Pin Code are more likely to settle easily in new places – they take their roots with them.”
Angela, an artist, said “I’ve traveled all over. I think I feel most at home in a place where I
1. feel loved, respected and welcomed, and
2. where my body feels comfortable, and
3. where I can let loose with my gifts and talents and be appreciated.”
An answer from the male perspective, Keith: “Home is where the people (or partner) you want to be with are.”
And Julia, a fellow introvert said, “I believe “home” is wherever I am – it’s within me, rather than being an external thing.”
From Verna, also an introvert: “Perhaps Earth is our home, or at least a temporary one. Sometimes I can get a bit tripped out on the fact that we do not know for sure where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going to. Everyone has their own theory or conviction on that one, and most have adopted what was handed down to them in books and by elders.
All experiences, places, and people make up my “home.” Come to think of it, maybe this is why I have always felt suffocated after a significant time in one place. Maybe some of us are meant to expand our horizons and our definition of home. Perhaps we are meant to form bonds of a “home” with many.”
And lastly from Marlene, also an introvert and author: “I think for me “home” is planet Earth and I just happen to be living in this one particular location at this particular point in time. I sense I’ve lived in many many countries in past lives and the geographical layout of those places may well have changed and have different labels now anyway.”