Home. There is a notion that the town you grew up in will always be home or that where you raise your own family is home. Some call home wherever they sleep that night. I suppose it is quite an ambiguous word.
I grew up in Southern California and for a long time I considered Riverside my home. I moved there when I was 8 years old and continued to live there until I was 23. It was a small town when I was growing up, full of orange groves, vast open space and little access to shopping or the latest restaurants. I have watched it flourish into quite a big and upcoming city; the orange groves have slowly disappeared, houses and shopping malls now litter the vast open spaces that once were and my generation has brought culture and art to a once (dare I say) hick-sort- of- town.
From a young age, I ached to see far off places. I often thought of going to Italy or to Argentina and any other place that flashed before my eyes through media I was exposed to. My family didn’t travel, in fact, my Mom and Step-father do not have passports. My biological father only has one because he is an immigrant. We always had local family holidays, riding our dirt bikes or camping. I wanted more.
When I was 19, my boyfriend at the time and I saved all our money and went to Europe; first stop, Amsterdam. I was a bit of a hippie at the time, refusing to wear a bra, unruly hair, in the Political Science club at school and regular visits to the local Buddhist Temple were my thing- so was smoking entirely too much ganja. We were fortunate enough to live with a wonderful Dutch woman just outside of the city and her family took us all over the country teaching us all about their culture. The Netherlands exceeded my expectations and I quickly became fascinated by being immersed in other cultures; I had caught the travel bug.
In the years to follow I went on several trips- I seen California from top to bottom (finally), I went back to Europe and explored more of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Spain and Germany. When I would return home, I would think of the next place I should go- the planning is almost as fun as being there.
As time went by I became restless, University lost its lustre and I began researching holiday work visas. England seemed like an appropriate place, I knew the language after all. Within weeks of my search I bumped into a group of Englishmen while partying entirely too hard in Las Vegas and there it was- I was off to England to live with my new-found friends within three months.
I quickly realized that I was in trouble only a couple hours after I landed as I couldn’t understand most of what these guys were saying. They were cockneys- a culture from East London that has a very distinctive accent and speaks in loads of slang. It must have taken me a good two months to finally understand them without having to say “what?” with a bewildered look on my face every time someone spoke to me. I went through a mild bout of homesickness by month three and by month six, I felt like a local. Nearly a year after my arrival, it was time to go home and although I was excited, there was an element of sadness that one only feels when a place has become home.
I was going to have to leave all my new friends people I had established deep and lasting connections with. Tea time would no longer be a regular part of life, my job would change, my routine would change, the scenery would change, my room would be emptied and certain local foods would no longer be available to me. The line between where I called home and what is home had blurred. I didn’t quite know where I should be or even where I wanted to be.
I returned to Southern California, arriving with a faux English accent and a love for PG Tips with skin as pale as cream. My sister picked me up from the airport and we drove on Los Angeles’ massive freeways; I looked in awe as massive lifted trucks whizzed past (I hadn’t seen one of those in a long time). Our first stop, before I even seen my own mother was our favourite taco place. I must have inhaled those beautiful tacos within seconds of them landing on my plate.
Once the excitement of being home wore off and I began doing mundane things like getting a job or organizing my room, a new and unfamiliar home-sickness set in. There was confusion as to where I should be, what I considered to be home and where I felt I should belong. I missed my friends in England, I missed my old routine and many other things that I had come to find normal. It was a period of re-adjustment I had not anticipated prior to coming back to Riverside. Naively, I had assumed that Riverside would always be home to me.
Like most things, the homesickness wore off, my accent melted away; my skin became tan and the heavy wool coats I had become used to, were shoved to the back of my closet. Life went on and so did I. My time in England did wonders for me, I became more fearless and I realized that all the material things I had- were not things that I need, they are things that I like and could be easily disposed of.
Within a couple of months of arriving back in Riverside, I made the decision to move to San Francisco. Ever since my first visit there at the age of 18, I knew I wanted to live there one day. I was instantly mesmerised by the beauty and vibrancy, as well as the forward thinking people and free-spirited attitude that the majority of it’s dwellers encompassed. It felt like the right fit for me and I felt instantly at home whenever I had visited previously; I didn’t have to work at feeling comfortable there.
So, off I went, my suitcase and I packed into my old Jeep Cherokee for the 8 hour drive. I had acquired a place to stay through a guy I was kind of dating and I hadn’t gotten a job as of yet but did have 3 or 4 interviews lined up. I had a total of $500 in my pocket and was hoping that would be enough until I found a way to make money. I quickly found employment and narrowly escaped starvation, leading me to finding my own place with 4 roommates. Though I had to sleep on the floor with no pillow and a little blanket the first month on my own, I stuck it out and stayed in my beautiful city for nearly 3 years.
I went on to live in San Francisco, building a career, a life, a new set of wonderful friends and a home. I went on to make trips to England, Belgium, Amsterdam, France and Italy on my own (I soon came to realize that travelling with another person is much better) and I lived my life independently and without a care in the World for other people’s judgements about me. I had become comfortable with who I was and had a direction for who I wanted to become; it was glorious.
I later got a place with my good friend Ellie and we soon decided it would be a great idea to become CouchSurfing hosts- it is a period of time I will never forget and will always cherish. We hosted 30 or so people and made some truly wonderful friends that we came to love and both stay in touch with. One of our 30 surfers is the man I will marry in three weeks.
My Fiance and I had to “hop” countries to be together since we have not one single matching passport-eventually leading us to the place he grew up: Cape Town, South Africa. It is now 14 months since I arrived and my accent is muddled down with South African phrasing and pronunciation, I have tea time every day, a whole new set of friends, I have gotten used to locking doors and being vigilant wherever I go and have a slight obsession with all things curry. Throughout all of this, I have never stopped aching to go back to San Francisco.
The homesickness I have felt here is like nothing I have ever experienced. I have come to accept that this is my temporary home but I never once felt like I would stay here permanently. It is such a beautiful place with an array of beautiful people but it just isn’t home to me.
In all my travelling and moving around, only one place has felt right. My heart and soul sings with glee when I am in San Francisco.
Home is definitely, where the heart is.