After travelling 4000 miles across the ocean, gallivanting around Europe, and finally coming back to the States again, I think I have a much greater appreciation of home. But I also think that “home” has taken on an entirely different meaning.  “How is being home?” people ask, but I’m not sure how to respond. I’m not exactly sure where “home” is anymore.

Before my parents get all mad at me for saying that, let me explain. I grew up in a very small town in Florida. My parents still live in that same small town, and when I return “home” for the summer, that’s the house I go to. But I never stay there for long. I drag half of my stuff with me to Orlando where I live with my aunt and uncle during long breaks so that I’m able to work at the most magical place on earth: Disney World. After spending more hours in the parks than most normal human beings, Disney has become like another “home”.

When I was in high school, I went to a school that was 30 minutes from my house, in a different city entirely. I spent many of my teenage years in St. Augustine, where I was over-involved in high school activities, and somehow I still found time to hang out with people and go to Irish dance lessons and competitions. I never it realized until I started visiting cities in Europe, but I consider St. Augustine my home just as much as Palm Coast. When I would explore Europe’s historic cathedrals and castles and cobblestone streets, I would often say, “This reminds me of a place back home in St. Augustine!” As the oldest city in the entire United States, it’s the closest that America has to the historical tradition of Europe. I never appreciated that about St. Augustine until I found other cities that were similar (albeit much older) in Europe.

When I went to college, I chose a university that was out of state and too far to commute to. I moved into my on-campus housing at Spring Hill College in Alabama and never looked back. Three years later, this campus has become my home in ways that I never expected. Being back is absolutely surreal. It’s as if nothing changed, and yet at the same time it’s almost as if everything has changed. Or maybe it’s just me who has changed. But nothing can change the feeling of home that you get when you see St. Joseph’s chapel and Rydex commons.

But I threw a twist in my four-years-of-college experience. I went abroad. I can honestly say that was probably the most life-changing experience that I’ve ever had, but I can also say that I found a home in Manchester. I didn’t realize that until I went backpacking for three weeks, and although it was wonderful being able to see so much of Europe, I often found myself saying “I wish I were back home in Manchester.”

So what is home? By these parameters, I keep leaving one home and going to another, and for this reason I have a hard time answering the question, “How is it being home?”

After wandering around Spring Hill’s campus, and soaking up its wonderfulness, I think the answer is that home isn’t a physical place. Home is a state of being. Home is tied up with memories and people, but mostly home is where the heart is. It’s strange because I feel like I have left my heart in so many places with so many people, but that doesn’t make any of those places “less” of a home. Home is where you find people you love (and who love you back). Home is where you are free to be yourself.

During my travels, I found myself constantly comparing things to “home,” wherever I considered it to be. “That street looks like one in St. Augustine!” “We have those trees at Spring Hill!” “Oh my gosh it’s a Disney store!!” No matter where I was, I sought out things that felt like home. But why? On the adventure of a lifetime, what was my fascination with home all of a sudden? I think Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz explains it best. After going on the adventure of a lifetime, Glinda asks her what she has learned. She responded simply, “If you have to go looking for your heart’s desire outside of your own backyard, then you never really lost it at all. There’s no place like home!”

Truly, there’s no place like home. 🙂