I’m in the house I grew up in.
Seeing my school from the balcony window.
Thinking who lived here 20 years ago and how life would have been different have we never left.
What is home?
How can you define this word and how does relocation affect your connection to people and places?
A few weeks ago, I was talking about Discovering Wings to someone I had just met and out of nowhere such a simple question was asked:
I’ve told my story to many people but the way it was asked made me realize what the true reason for this project was.
I want to dig deeper and uncover what a person considers home and how does one choose to stay in the city, state or country they were born in, versus moving away or being brought by parents without having an option to stay.
How does relocation really affect our sense of belonging?
Can two people be so different having been born in the same place but one who stayed and another who left?
How is a life of an immigrant similar or different from a local?
What is a person capable of doing and suffering through for the promise of the unknown?
I was 11 years old when we left Russia and relocated to Cyprus. It was a beautiful island filled with warm weather, large, beautiful resorts and everyone speaking a language I didn’t understand. It looked like paradise but almost everything was off-limits and reserved for the lucky ones who were there on a vacation and able to afford to stay in the fancy resorts, eat at expensive restaurants and shop in all the designer boutiques. As a kid, I felt isolated, deprived and alone not knowing anyone or having any money to take advantage of anything that the island offered. My summers were spent working part-time and sneaking to the resort’s beach fantasizing how one day I can be one of the tourists as well.
Once things started to fall into place, my mother got an opportunity to move to America.
Four years after living in Cyprus, we packed our things once again and moved to New York. I have called NYC my home for 16 years but still can not say that it’s a real home.
In school, with friends or at work, I was constantly trying to prove something. Overachieving and trying too hard worked to my advantage most of the time but internally it certainly did the opposite at the time.
A big part of it was the age I had moved each time and not knowing anyone or having a support network to fall back on or seek advice from at a very crucial age of development. I had raised myself for the most part of my adulthood and always gravitated towards older people, they were replacing parents, family and role models that I was missing.
My mom worked all the time, trying to provide not only for herself and me but also for our whole family in Russia. We left during the time of perestroika when the majority of people barely had enough to eat and even in the stores, there was no food to purchase. With my mother’s help, many family members, even extended cousins were sent packages of food and clothes on a regular basis. She was working 2 to 3 jobs at a time, trying to help everyone.
All I wanted was a mother, she was trying to be mother Theresa.
I felt alone while they were hungry.
I may have blamed my mother many times for taking me away from everything and everyone I knew. However, she gave me more even when she physically was not there. She loved the way she knew how and tried to give me what her parents couldn’t do for her.
Being here now, I am grateful whenever talking with family members, old friends and people who never left. I am certainly thankful for where I am in life and all the opportunities from growing up overseas. Knowing this, it still doesn’t change that I often felt isolated and ripped from family and not feeling like I belong.
We often forget to appreciate the simple things. Calling a friend when you want to talk. Hugging your grandma when you feel sad. Being present at family functions and birthdays. Feeling connected, understood and accepted by someone who knows and loves you no matter what.
So the real answer for me is:
A home is where the people you love surround you and you feel secure, loved and appreciated.
It doesn’t have to be one specific place, it can be a moment you share with another human being. You can create a ‘home’ wherever you are, wherever your open heart is.
Family can mean the people related to you and who you know since birth. It can also be the people who are so close, they become family.
I have a family in Russia who I longed for my entire life and felt a piece was missing. Now I visit as a stranger. Their faces and stories are like an old movie you watch to feel nostalgic and think of ‘good old times’. However, the years have passed and you can speak only of memories and not who you are today. It’s sad but I learn to accept it and take it for what it is.
New York has not always been easy but it’s certainly the people who make a place worth staying. I am grateful to have friends who I consider like family.
If you moved when you were young, I’d love to hear from you about your experience and what you consider ‘home’.