The Culture Shock of Returning Home After an Extended Period Away
I have always been told that home is a place. It's where you learned how to walk, where your parents live, where you have memories of family game nights, etc. When you become an adult, and the world becomes a thousand times bigger, people tend to try and keep you boxed in. I've had multiple people tell me that travel is fun and all—but I'll end up back home someday.
I wonder why this is. Why are we so concerned with returning to the place we grew up in? Isn't growing up all about growth and change? Why would I want to stay in a place I know and stay inside my comfort zone instead of exploring the parts of the world unknown to me, and challenge myself? Why do we promote the idea that "home" is a singular place?
I recently spent the past 10 months traveling the southwest region of the United States. I spent four and a half months in Colorado, three months in Wyoming, one and a half months in Texas, and one month in New Mexico. While I was in these places, I came to really get to know the communities and become apart of their daily lives. In Casper, WY I would see people I knew everywhere I went, whether it be at the local grocery store or at a bar. In Taos, NM I was able to become a regular at a local coffee shop to the point where they knew my order. In Brazoria, TX I lived inside a church, and was welcomed in with wide open arms. In Colorado, I was able to explore so many different parts of the state (and more than once), that if you asked me I could give you recommendations the way only a local could.
My point is—home doesn't have to be one single place. It doesn't have to be a place at all. For the past 10 months, I learned that home is nothing more, and nothing less than a feeling. It's somewhere you feel most at peace and become your most authentic self. It can be a place—or it can be a person (or multiple). It can be a job. It can be a hobby. It can be memories. Whatever puts your mind to ease—that's when you're home.
Which is why, on my very first day being back "home" in Michigan, I feel somewhat of a culture shock. Before I boarded my plane in DIA, there was a moment where I looked out at the mountain range cutting into the clear blue sky, and it felt like I was saying goodbye to a part of myself. Or, at least, a better version of myself.
One of my work friends explained to me that people are never the same once they're home. It's a strange phenomenon, but it holds quite a bit of truth. Once you return to your initial "home," it's easy to pick back up old bad habits. It's easy to fall backward instead of forward. All of the challenges you faced during your time away, and the growth that you accrued are now put to the test: can I maintain this better version of myself or fall victim to the past?
"Home" isn't always the best place for someone to be. For someone like me, where I grew up and where my family lives isn't conducive to growth. It doesn't challenge me. Instead, I feel inhibited, almost as if I'm bound by invisible thread that keeps me from spreading my wings. The atmosphere is regressive. Everything I worked on fixing about myself while I was away resurfaces once again. And I doubt I'm alone.
This isn't to say that "home" is a place we shouldn't return to, but the idea that home has to be where you grew up, or a singular place, or any place at all, is an idea that we should all re-evaluate. I feel fortunate enough to have found a home outside of my house, family, and state. I have families made up of friends. I have homes filled with memories in different states. And now that I'm back in my childhood house, the feeling that this is not where I belong is stronger than ever, and the urge to keep moving forward continues.
I don't know if I'll ever settle down. If I do, I don't know if I'll settle down in Michigan, or Colorado, or Wyoming, or somewhere else entirely new. All I know right now is this: I cannot and should not be confined to one definition of what "home" should mean. I have the power to define it myself.