Whenever I post on Facebook that I’ll be “coming home“ for a visit, friends reply: “Which one?“ That question is justified. Do I mean Germany, where my family lives, or England, where my heart will always be, or Japan, where I’m currently a resident?
Where is home really?
When it comes to living abroad, I’ve noticed that people fall into two categories. The first one contains the people who want to live abroad for a foreseeable amount of time to see and experience something new, but when that time is up, go straight back to their home countries where they feel rooted and safe. They stick the photographs in an album, label it, and contently move on from that phase in their lives.
The second category contains the people who planned to do just that, but living abroad changed something inside them. Profoundly. Irreversible. They realize that they can’t go back to the life they’d lived before. That the world is there to be lived in and not just visited on a holiday. Who find comfort way out of their comfort zones. And who therefore will always feel compelled to keep moving.
Have a wild guess which category I fall under.
This is my third time living abroad and it doesn’t even feel out of the ordinary anymore, but more like an alternative version of my life that I deliberately chose. Even though that doesn’t always mean walking down the easy road of life. On the contrary: It means things being difficult most of the time.
Once I realized that I’m free to get up and move somewhere else anytime I want and start a new life there, it was liberating and inspiring, but on the flip side I also started feeling incredibly lost. Floating through the sea like a ship with no anchor: As long as things went great, I enjoyed the ride and the wind in my face. But as soon as things started going badly, I felt like drowning in thoughts of regret of coming to that particular place.
Another harsh reality I had to face early on was that the people I get attached to will not stay in my life for a long time. By choosing the lifestyle I described, my social life had become a revolving door. The first time I had to say goodbye to a roommate/friend during uni times because she was an international student and went back to her home country (fun fact: that home country was Japan!) , I cried an entire day like someone had died. You might think it got easier with time and the (rather large) number of international friends I had to say goodbye to in the following years.
It never got any easier.
It still rips my heart out every time I have to say goodbye to a friend, knowing that life as we knew it and lived it together would simply not exist anymore. That all the routines we had built together would be over. That writing to each other would be all we’d have. For the rest of our – separated – lives.
So why the heck do I keep living this way, if it’s so tough and inflicts so much pain?
Here’s why: I’ve had the privilege to meet the most incredible people. (If you’re reading this, you’re quite likely one of them.) Those incredible people have taught me, among many other things, what home is.
Home is watching ’Love Actually’ together in July while knitting a scarf.
Home is running for the last tram together on a Friday night and not being able to remember all the songs you just sang at karaoke.
Home is laying on the balcony together at night to watch the stars.
Home is carving faces into pumpkins together, ignoring the fact that you’re supposed to be an adult.
Home is a kitchen full of laughter and a never ending supply of tea to drink together.
I could go on forever with this list. What I’m trying to say is:
People have been, and if I’m lucky, always will be home to me. Places are just a frame for all the beautiful memories created. What really matters are the people. Every friend I make along the way becomes part of me, whether it’s someone who was in my life only for a short amount of time or whether it’s someone who (for some miraculous reason) just never left it, no matter how many miles or time zones between us.
Sometimes I feel scattered inside because my friends are scattered all over the world. But sometimes it makes me feel whole, too. Because my home is with the people I have loved and will love.
The people who hold my memories and the people who hold my future.