It Leads Me Home, this Winding Road

By Julia K

It is a curious feeling, that feeling of home. It might sneak up on you, overwhelm you, or you might not notice it at all until you feel the vastness of its absence, when you find yourself lost in foreign lands. Home can be anywhere, really. It might be one, or multiple places. You might be lucky enough to have found it early on in life, been born and raised in one place, or you might have found home later in life, after the twists and turns of adolescence, once you had caught your breath after the restlessness of your twenties. Or maybe home to you is not a place at all. I have been fortunate enough to call multiple places home. Each one has been a little different, and each one occupies a distinct space in the cartogram of my mental map of home.

The first anchor point on my map, the first home I ever knew, was situated in a quiet townhouse complex just outside the city center of Frankfurt am Main. My family and I lived there until I was about five or six, and it is the place I have the least recollection of. My attempts at remembering it leave me with fragmented scenes of both quiet tranquility and vibrant liveliness. A scratchy yellow carpet in the living room, a susurrant creek, and a primary colored string of lights around an open garage door, oldie rock songs being played by the neighborhood band. The feeling of home permeating these images is but a faint impression, a subtle whiff of perfume lingering in the air, its strong scent faded and worn off after all this time. But still noticeable, not fully gone, yet.

The second anchor point on my map is my grandparents’ home in Wiesbaden. It is where I lived for the first few months of primary school, before my parents had finished the renovations of our own new home in the city, and it is the place I return to, always. Wiesbaden is the first place I was able to navigate on my own. Its streets and corners and the connecting paths in between are known to me by name, affording me a sense of belonging, of agency even, by being able to find my way to where I wish to go. It is where I am free from the fear of being lost. The feeling of home is attached to every inch of my grandparents’ house, radiating out into the city, a tangible, loud feeling, the certainty of which has been guiding my life for as long as I can remember. It is the North Star of my map.

The third mark on my map is Essen, the home I never wanted to have. We moved here when I was twelve and I wanted to leave as soon as I had arrived. With its utter lack of any and all obvious aesthetic charm, its ever-growing and ever-present construction sites and an honesty one might easily mistake for rudeness, Essen was hard to love – and I had no intention of trying. Yet after many years of twists and turns, the feeling of home crept up on me here. In this instance, the feeling of home is a defiant, triumphant feeling, manifesting itself quietly against all odds. It is one I finally allowed into my life, instead of having it chosen for me. And even though its coordinates were given to me, the mark signifying Essen as a place of home I drew myself.

We do not get to choose all the places we find ourselves in on our paths to wherever it is we are meant to be. Some of them we will keep with us, some of them we leave behind for good. Some of them become places of home, whatever that might mean or feel like. Some of these places of home will be readily apparent, a gleaming beacon on one’s map. Others will be harder to identify, paradoxical places of one’s biography, yet still undeniably etched into the cartogram of one’s map of home. These are mine.

The Moments that Made Me Realize How Diverse Our World Is

By Long Do Hoang

When I was a child, my perception of the world was so small until I understood what heritage meant. I was a born in a small town near Stuttgart in Germany, Göppingen. Growing up there, the majority of my friends were German, the language we spoke with each other was German and the games we played were all in German. I was aware that the language that I spoke with to my parents was different, but I did not know about the concept – the social construct – of “heritage”. To me and my friends, the way we looked or where our parents came from did not hold any significance. All that mattered to us was that everyone in our group knew about the latest episode of Power Rangers or Pokémon. But our ignorance came to a halt after me and my friends entered elementary school.

Once I entered elementary school, I learned that the world seemed to be a little bit bigger than what I had anticipated. What consisted of my street, family, community and kindergarten before expanded to a new school with hundreds of new faces. And these faces looked nothing like mine. And I was not the only child to realize that. It was then when other kids would come up to me and ask where I was from. At that time, I did not have an answer, or, at least no answer that was to their satisfaction. I would tell them the street I was living in only for them to move to their next question which was: “No, what country are you from?” Whenever I would try to explain to them that I was from a country named Germany they would get mad while telling me that it was not true. I would hear statements like “You cannot look like that when you are German” or “My daddy said you are from China” as if their parents were more competent to assess my valid identity. So, after accumulating a certain amount of confusion and frustration, my younger self decided to ask the wisest person he knew at that time: my mother. One day after my full first grade schedule, I went up to my mother and asked her: “Mommy, why do people keep saying that I am from China when I am German?” to which my wise mother replied: “Long, you are neither German nor Chinese. You are, like the rest of our family, Vietnamese.” That answer came as a great shock to me. I learned that day, that I was neither German nor Chinese but Vietnamese. I was from a country that was completely unknown to me and more importantly, to my German friends. How should I explain my identity to them if I myself knew nothing of the country I was from?

Once summer vacations arrived, my parents decided that it was time for me and my then 10-month-old brother to get to know the country they came from. So, at six years, I was seated in a plane and flew about 30h – there was no direct commercial flight to Vietnam back then – to our “homeland”. I remember quite vividly how excited I was. I was going to meet my grandparents for the first time! Maybe, I hoped, they would also be really into baking like the grandmas of my other friends. I was looking forward to a nice big suburban house with a garden full of flowers and trees and maybe even a German shepherd dog named Rex? But the reality was very different.

The first thing I recall was the intense heat that slapped me across my face once we left the plane. Back then, Vietnam was still economically struggling. The country had suffered a long period of war and the government was blacklisted by multiple countries that were allies of the United States. What that meant for my younger self was: No air conditioning, no real streets, no real cars, bad electricity and no flushing toilets or running water inside the house. Having lived in a country where people do not even question that a toilet should be able to flush, this came as a huge shock to me. My grandparents also, were no strangers to poverty. While the parents of my father had a big hole in the roof from a dropped bomb during the war, the parents of my mother shared one room with the siblings of my mother as well as the toilet – which was a hole surrounded by a fence – with the whole neighborhood. But here is the wonder of childhood. Even though I was shocked at first, my younger self realized two things: I realized that there was a place where everyone looked similar to me, a place where I did not have to explain my existence. And more importantly, that I had a huge family who exceeded my highest expectations. My family might not have had a house with flowers and a dog, but it had cousins who played with me, grandparents who loved me and uncles who would drive me anywhere by a motor scooter! I learned how to climb on palm trees to pick coconuts and how to sharpen sticks to catch some fish.

I learned that although my family was very different from the ones of my German families, there was nothing that I needed to be ashamed of. Seeing all my family members I realized that it was possible to have an identity that might be slightly different from the rest of the Blumenstraße in Göppingen. And now, after having lived in Germany, England and the United States I can confidently say that there are no similar identities. The world can sometimes seem small but take it from someone who had the privilege to see a tiny bit from it: This world of us is huge and the more we are ready to explore ourselves and our so-called “heritage”, the more special and interesting it will appear.

Making a Place Feel Like Home

By Linda Baron

In writer Verlyn Klinkenborg’s own words, “[there is] a big difference between feeling at home and being home” (Klinkenborg 2012). As people everywhere are forced to stay inside their houses, I frequently think back to this quote and wonder how many people actually consider their house to be their home. A news story about students who planned to study abroad and now are stuck there alone comes to mind. As does a documentary about grandparents who live at retirement shelters and cannot see their families because they are at higher risk of catching Covid-19. Examples like these make me think about how important it is to have a place that feels like home: especially while every public place you normally might enjoy going to is on lockdown.

In his essay “The Definition of Home,” Klinkenborg distinguishes between feeling at home and being home. He argues that when a person is at home, he or she will not feel at home since home “is a place so profoundly familiar you [do not] even have to notice it” (Klinkenborg 2012). Home is something one only becomes aware of when it is absent. Most people probably know about this concept because of love: Numerous love songs are written about a lost love that could only be appreciated by the lovers only after it ended. In her song “Big Yellow Taxi,” Joni Mitchell sings “don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” (Mitchell 1970). She uses a metaphor of a green area that gets replaced by a parking lot to emphasize that usually we only appreciate the worth of what we have once it is no longer available.

Klinkenborg also lists different types of relationships one can have with the concept of home: He writes that “[s]ome people, as they move through their lives, rediscover home again and again. Some people never find another after once leaving home. And of course, some people never leave the one home [they have] always known.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines “familiarity” as the “close acquaintance with or knowledge of something” (Oxford University Press 2016). According to Klinkenborg’s definition of home as a “profoundly familiar” place (Klinkenborg 2012), it thus should be possible to cause a place to become one’s home with time. Since these days our house is the place where we spend the most time, we cannot help but grow more familiar with it. Maybe right now is the time that many people re-define what home is for themselves.

However, people who feel deeply homesick right now are certainly uninterested in replacing their old home with a new one. When someone is holding on to the memory of a (temporarily) lost home, he or she is unlikely to want to change his or her opinion about it. For these people, feeling at home is probably a hard thing to do these days. Still, I believe that there are small steps one can take toward feeling more at home. Recreating certain visual aspects of one’s home, talking to close friends and family on the phone or simply setting up pictures of loved ones might work. It did for me.

But whether we feel at home or are home right now, this pandemic has changed the perception of home for lots of us. We learned to appreciate the advantages our homes offer us and got annoyed when these homes could not meet new exceptions we suddenly had for them. I myself have never been someone who likes spending time at home. But during this pandemic, I have learned the importance of having a stable home to return to at the end of a day. 

Works Cited

“familiarity” OED Online. Oxford University Press, 2016. Web. 4 December 2020.

Klinkenborg, Verlyn. “The Definition of Home.” Smithsonian Magazine. May 2012. Web. 4 Dec 2020.

Mitchell, Joni. “Big Yellow Taxi.” Ladies of the Canyon. A&M, Los Angeles, 1970.