The Meaning of Home

February 6, 2024 | | 1 Comment

On the left side of the shelf connected to my desk is a wooden box with an icon of the Virgin Mary and her Child. This box was a gift from a friend I barely knew then and now consider almost a stranger. Yet, in the first month of college, he saw the homesickness I had desperately wanted to keep hidden. Maybe it was in my shaking voice as I had asked him if he was an Orthodox Christian. Or in my eyes which had turned glassy and wet. I remember how surprised I was at myself–for being so emotional and about a faith that I had started to distance from. I was not devout and I hadn’t been in years. But suddenly, in that dingy dorm that smelled like alcohol and dirty laundry, I was transported back to Sunday mornings in church with hymns in the background and the smell of woody incense and my mom beside me and the feeling of home. So fast and so intense was this feeling that it persists in my memory as clearly as I had first felt it. I am not sure if that same friend felt what I felt in that room on that night. But when he handed me the box, with the words “keep it” as his only explanation–I knew he understood. And I will forever be grateful not for the box but for the reassurance that came with it–that it was okay to yearn for home. And eventually that it was okay to make a new home at Dickinson college. 

I didn’t say all this when I was asked to present an object that was meaningful to me on the first virtual exchange with my peers at The American University of Sharjah in the United Emirates. I think it would have been too much. It’s too much now and yet I feel compelled to share. Perhaps it’s because I suspect, like me, my peers gave polished meanings to their objects. I don’t blame them. Or perhaps it’s because it’s eleven pm eastern time and inspiration has abandoned me. Or perhaps it’s both. Or maybe it’s neither.

 But however polished the answers were there was vulnerability and as a result, certain universal themes emerged from our conversation. A prominent one being that home doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to geographical points on a map. It can instead be a feeling, a memory, a smell, a sound or a person. Where we call home can change but the ties that connect us to the feeling are strong and taut. For many of my peers the objects they had selected reminded them of their families. The people they associated with home.

 Our initial vulnerability gave way to easy laughter. Questions and answers bounced around. Other similarities included our shared appreciation for our home countries and our cultures. Our concern for the politics in our regions and the wider world was also a major discussion point. Our shared grappling of our identities as young adults and our search for belonging was persistent and clear. Certain differences also emerged. Like the fact that my AUS peers  didn’t know what “quad” was in reference to a college campus. Or how the upcoming month of Ramadan would change their day to day lives. But no difference felt too different. I am excited to talk and read about my peers to see the nuances of who they are and how they live their lives. 



1 Comment so far

  1.    Noor Al Ain Imran on February 6, 2024 5:35 pm

    Thank you for sharing, Etsub! I really enjoyed your blog post — especially your focus on how, regardless of where we are from and live, we tend to have an innate hesitation when it comes to sharing elements of our being that make ourselves vulnerable. Regardless of the schemas and stereotypes we’ve been exposed to, I was pleasantly surprised by how non-different we are — perhaps one can go far as to say that our differences are common, even mundane.

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