Growing up a disgruntled and alienated teen in the suburbs of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, I never imagined that life would take me to so many corners of the world, both as a traveler and expat.
It’s made me wonder exactly what makes a place feel like home. Is living and working somewhere, walking its streets day after day enough to make a place “home?” Or is it more elusive? More of a construct that gathers within its warm confines, our most cherished memories, hopes, feelings and dreams?
Obviously, I lean towards the latter. Experience has shown me the truth of this.
Because despite 23 of my most developmental years lived in the icy embrace of Calgary’s never-ending winter, I never felt at home. Maybe it was my Asian-ness in a very white community (it was the 70s/80s after all), but I’m inclined to think it was more about the culture of the city. Oil rich, conspicuous consumption, right wing politics was always the dominant narrative, and that has NEVER been me. Even as a teen, the city grated against my soul like fingernails across a chalkboard. We simply didn’t match.
Of course, I didn’t have the consciousness or maturity to understand THAT in my angst-filled youth. It took a solo move to Toronto at 25, and the comfort of being enveloped in a culture that just fit better. Not surprisingly, I spent a good portion of my 8 years there in a drug-fueled party, simultaneously running from and towards myself.
By the end of it all, I emerged a bit battered and bruised, but closer than ever to a sense of home. There, I formed the friendships that I know will underpin a lifetime of experiences, both inner and outer. Kindred spirits that I know will carry me through the trials and difficult times in life.
Most importantly, Toronto is the place where I finally found the courage to stoke the embers of a truer version of myself. A version that wouldn’t be knocked off-balance by external influences, factors or beliefs. A version that could stand in the knowledge of what was right for me, without confusion, shame or remorse.
And so now here I sit.
Ten years into a life in Seoul. The city of my birth, but somewhere I’d never considered as a possible home. And though I’ve never felt less Korean, than the day I was actually surrounded by my own tribe, I’ve found a peace in this city of 25 million, that I was never able to attain in Calgary or Toronto.
How is it that I can feel at home, in a culture that’s so far off my inner compass, it’s not even on the map? Where I’m so far from most of my family and closest friends, that their physical presence is but a ghostly dream?
It’s taken living in 3 different cities, traveling to countless others, and most of my 43 years, to grasp the simple truth that home cannot be found in a physical place. Rather, that it resides within each and every one of us. And that when being within yourself is as comfortable as a well-worn pair of slippers, every place is Home.
Have you always felt “at home?” or was it a long journey to find it? What’s home for you?