How do we decide to call a place home?
Is home the house where we found ourselves when we were born, is it a place where we think we find our identities or is it a place where we constantly grow? Are we supposed to love our homes or hate them? Is home a house, a group of human beings, a city or an ethnicity or a country?
But most importantly, why do we all long for our homes? If we think about it, we all struggle to find ourselves some kind of home, a shelter from the world outside.
These are the questions that I keep dwelling on as my mother prepares to leave for a 15-hour flight back to Turkey, after a visit to Stanford because of an emergency I lived through. Knowing how hard it was for her to come here, I felt bad causing her this unexpected trip, but I now understand why she endured all this: I was her home. And now, having been exposed to the realities out in the world, I’m feeling the need to go back home too.
If someone had said that I would be homesick one month into college, I would tell them I was the last person who could miss her country. I am one of those people who believe that borders are arbitrary and that universal humanity should be the main concern, not hundreds of divisions. Because I believe in a philosophy where the concept “country” is unnatural and not helpful to the international community, I have always considered myself a “world citizen” and assumed I would be fine wherever I ended up going.
I stood, and still do stand, against the notions of patriotism and nationalism, reproaching them for constructing imagined communities and dividing the international community. I believed they distracted people away from focusing on issues like international human rights, universal ethics and the prioritization of human decency and humans as a united community. As a result, I assumed I was not going to miss my country and thus would not feel homesick.
I’m not going to lie: I did not think I loved my country when I left. I was scornful towards how dirty the main street with my high school was (and how certain areas in the city had become aesthetically displeasing), how I differed from many people in my city in my worldview, how I could not be fully open with my ethnic identity because of a decade-long discordance between two nations, how women were treated, how some societal norms (such as religion) were imposed upon everyone and how people delved straight into topics that were none of their business.
Here at Stanford, I was shocked to learn how wrong I was — not concerning my ideology regarding the world and not concerning my country’s current atmosphere, but about how these would cause me not to miss home. I could not see how these were irrelevant to my feelings of homesickness and my sense of belonging. I had missed it.
I did not know what home meant before coming to Stanford. My home was not the entire country, the city or the people, and certainly not the country’s politics. My home was my family, the feeling I got when I discovered new streets around my high school, that familiarity I felt when I interacted with people and, maybe most importantly, the skepticism I felt towards my surroundings.
For me, I realized, home is a place where I fight.
At home, I cared. I cared about how the city looked, how people thought and behaved and frankly, about all the dynamics surrounding me. I was raised to be a very critical person, so criticizing and being cynical was a normal process for me. When I grew out of this cynicism, I still knew, deep down, that being skeptical towards something and being mad over it were merely signs that showed I cared. And I did. For me, home was feelings more than anything else.
I used to say I was “sick of here” before leaving my home. Today when getting some work done, I had the exact same music playing in my headphones I had brutally criticized my closest friends for listening to. I got tearful over the smell when I made some of the coffee we used to drink at least once a week at home. I feel ambiguous towards the culture here, because I evidently find it mechanical and very “black and white” after living among very, very warm-blooded people my whole life. Here, it took me a while to notice that people do not necessarily mean it when they ask you “how are you doing?” or that they become perplexed when you tell them you are not doing okay or not necessarily feeling fine — as if those emotions did not exist, or if they do exist, as if they are not natural and need to be immediately resolved or it’s the end of the world. It is more about checking off boxes instead of connecting with people.
I’ve realized that the antagonism I felt towards my surroundings was not necessarily negative and that my home, which I missed immensely, was not composed of merely the things that used to annoy me back in my country: It was a special space that I had created. I’ve comprehended that it was a combination of shelter and internalization of the space.
Good news is, I’ve already stopped looking at Stanford as the dreamy top school I hoped I could get into and started getting real with my critique towards Stanford, as if it were becoming a part of my home. I am evaluating the student life, any resources that are listed for supporting students and wondering whether they are indeed helpful and adopting a questioning approach towards the campus culture, such as my reproach of the mechanical communication. The internalization, I have come to believe, begins with my perception of Stanford’s problems. It is a construction, it is a home.
Contact Gülin Ustabas at gulinu ‘at’ stanford.edu.