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Figuring out where home is

“What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” Everyone asked these questions during the first few months of college. When every face is a new face, it’s good to start by establishing some basic information, and it only took me a couple days to get into a rhythm when I first met someone. “I’m Carolyn. I’m from Colorado.” A month after arriving at Brandeis, I broke the rhythm.

The question threw me. Instead of “Where are you from?” I was asked, “Where’s home?” to which I responded, in Rorschach fashion, “Shapiro Hall.” In one month my interpretation of the word “home” shifted from the town in which I spent eight years to the dorm building in which I had spent four weeks.

People often say, “Home is where the heart is,” but I’ve never been comfortable with that definition. My concept of “home” began evolving when I was eight years old and my parents told me we were moving the first time. I am accustomed to accepting a new home quickly because my family moved four times in five years when I was a kid. Settling into a new house, town and school became part of my routine. Over the course of four moves, countless family trips and the summer I spent in China, I determined that home for me was not where my heart was, but wherever I happened to be sleeping that night.

I feel safe this way. If I accept that home is where the heart is, then I am rarely home. If I am in China but my heart is with the snowcapped mountains and dry air of Colorado, I spend the day filled with longing. If I choose to think of home as my bed, then I am always home. I am free to roam the humid, cloudy streets of urban China secure in the knowledge that I have somewhere to which I can return at night.

Now that I am in college, I have again redefined the word “home” because of the conflict of attending a school 1,753 miles from my parents’ house. I spend three-quarters of my time living at Brandeis, but I lived in Colorado for eight years before moving here. My friends are at Brandeis, but my family is in Colorado. When I go home for the night, I go back to my dorm room. When I go home for the summer, I fly back to Colorado.

So where is my home? Brandeis or Colorado? Is a person’s “hometown” the town where they grew up or the town they currently inhabits? Is “home” the place someone spent the majority of their life or the place they started life? At what point does a person’s loyalty to a location change from where they were to where they are?

It doesn’t help that Brandeis as a residence has the built-in expiration date of graduation. It is my home now, but it won’t be my home forever. For that matter, I have no reason to believe that any of my future homes will last forever. Unlike my grandparents, I doubt I will choose one spot on which to live the remainder of my life. Impermanence is an inherent characteristic of my concept of home.

Home is more of a state of mind than a physical place. Though my experiences gave me more questions than answers, they did teach me that “home” as an idea is perpetually in flux. It does not only have many definitions—it has them all at the same time. My home is where I am loved by family and supported by friends. It is where I am now and where I have lived. It is the bed I long for and the bed I have tonight. My home is not Brandeis or Colorado; it is Brandeis and Colorado. I have more than one home, and each home has more than one meaning.

I try to define “home” for myself, but I cannot define it for anyone else. It is something everyone must consider and explore on their own. Finding a home does not have to be an A, B or C choice. It can be all of the above.

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