Redefining "Home"

Thanksgiving holds a special place in my heart- while most people eagerly anticipate Christmas, I’ve always preferred one special Thursday in November. Growing up, I looked forward to fulfilling my role as the designated potato-masher and table-setter alongside the rest of my family as we spent the morning in the kitchen together- cooking, bickering, laughing. Even after going to college, our family tradition of cooking Thanksgiving dinner together lived on, as I’m lucky enough that New York is a short two-hour plane ride away from my hometown near Chicago.

But this year is different. After 18 years of spending Thanksgiving beside my family eating home-cooked food and reflecting on our blessings, for the first time, our tradition will be broken. My family will be replaced by my friends, and we’ll be “celebrating” in a city that doesn’t really even recognize Thanksgiving as a holiday. While I’m blessed to be surrounded by people I cherish on this incredible adventure of studying abroad, a part of me still aches for the familiarity of home, especially during the holiday season.

Of course, I’ve wrestled with the legitimacy of my homesickness. Among the abundance of international students at NYU, I’ve tried to force myself to push aside my longing for familiarity by justifying that others have it harder, others spend four months away from home every semester, and others aren’t a simple two-hour flight away from NYC. And while studying abroad, aren’t we all in the same boat? Everyone is watching the days get shorter and holiday cheer surfacing while being thousands of miles away from their families, so what’s the point in me articulating my feelings?

In the whirlwind of a semester studying abroad, we feel so much pressure to make sure every moment is capitalized on and that we don’t waste any time. We only get four months to travel and experience new places, and why should any one second of those four months be spent wanting to be back in a place you already know? There’s an expectation that these are ‘some of the craziest and best times of our lives’- if that’s the case, is it right to feel a slight desire to return to routine and stability?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, as they’re ones that have constantly circulated in my mind for the past couple weeks. But here’s what I do know. Missing your family is okay. Wanting to sleep in your own bed is okay. Craving routine is okay. Looking forward to a home-cooked meal is okay. And most of all, homesickness is okay.

The definition of home has been widely confusing for me this year. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘home’ as “the place where one lives permanently.” But I haven’t spent more than ten consecutive days in my own permanent home, in Naperville, IL, since last winter break. After living in Rubin freshman year, Alumni while completing a summer internship in NYC, and now Machova whilst studying abroad in Prague, my physical address has switched enough times for me to reject the notion of a permanent living space. Saying that I’m ‘going home’ at the end of the day really translates to “I’m going to the dorm that I’ll only be living in for 3-4 months.”

With this, however, has come a shift to a new meaning of the word ‘home’. For me, the idea of home is no longer where I sleep at night, where I shower, or where I eat dinner. Instead, the word has evolved to be associated with people, love, family. Home isn’t just a place, it’s a feeling- a feeling that can be evoked simply by spending time with people I love. Jumping on the bed singing Hannah Montana in Weinstein with my best friends felt like home, exploring the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan with my dad felt like home, strolling Leicester Square in London with my mom felt like home. The Oxford English Dictionary also states that the word “home” has “feelings of belonging, comfort, etc.” associated with it, and this is the part of the formal definition I’ve learned to emphasize this year.

This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for all the change that has occurred this year. I’m grateful to have been able to finally feel at home in NYC, I’m grateful for the incredible opportunities studying abroad has brought me. But most of all, I’m grateful to have people in my life that will stay permanent, even if my physical ‘home’ may only be temporary. I’m not sure how my definition of home is going to change in the coming months or years. But I do know that embracing change is a lot easier to do when you have the people you love by your side, no matter what.

Happy Thanksgiving NYU Prague.

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