It’s already been a week since Thanksgiving. By now, you’ve digested the copious amounts of turkey and gravy consumed over the holiday and hopefully recovered from the cherished “family time” that can leave people slightly scarred. What a wonderful time of the year.
Campus was a ghost town while you were away. In the dorms, it would be rare to run into someone. The motion sensor lights stayed dark for most of the day, nobody to illuminate the halls for. The people who remained were mainly international students or a few stragglers who chose not to return home for various reasons. Snapchat stories flashed scenes of cozy living rooms and cuddles with family pets that left my chest aching with jealousy and yearning.
I struggle with the idea of “home.” Those inevitable questions come around – “Where are you from?” or “Where’s home for you?” — to which I can’t give a definitive or consistent answer. What defines a home? Is it where your family lives? Is it where you grew up? Is it where you have your own bed and a collection of your childhood memories? For many, home is all of those things, and sometimes it’s all in the same place. It may seem trivial, but having to soul-search every time such a simple question is asked is draining.
I grew up in a suburb outside of Tokyo, but I also grew up in Eagan, Minnesota. Then I moved to the Twin Cities, and I often traveled back to Tokyo to attend school and visit friends and family. After leaving for college the first time, my mother moved to Placitas, New Mexico, my brother to Wisconsin and my father to Thailand. While I was working for the circus, I lived in Las Vegas, Australia, Montreal, Japan again, Russia and Belgium, and a few other places in between. My mother and brother have since moved again, and my father has relocated to Singapore. So where is home?
It’s a question that I still haven’t figured out an answer to, but there’s a few important things I’ve learned through this struggle.
First: Labels don’t define you. Where you were born or where you grew up say nothing about what kind of person you are, what accent you might have or what should be expected of you. Your home – or lack of one – is only a detail of your identity. For me, it took a few years with the circus, with people in a similar situation, living out of suitcases, a muddled definition of “home” and holidays spent sharing meals away from “family” to figure this out. It didn’t matter where these people were from or where they had been. I love them just the same.
Second: It’s okay to have a different answer than everyone else. It’s also okay to say as much or as little as you want. In my situation, saying anything more than a single city warrants a longer explanation, which isn’t usually necessary. So I’ll choose “Minnesota” or “Tokyo” depending on my mood and roll with the conversation that follows. Chances are, that person won’t remember where you’re from anyways, and it’s hardly the most interesting thing about you.
Third: Home is where you are, and where the people you care about are. I have been incredibly fortunate over the years to have met multiple groups of people that I consider to be family. These people have been so generous to welcome me into their homes, to offer me a place to stay and a family-like environment. Those days when I did not make it to where my mother, father or brother was (a choice to see one meant not seeing another), a friend was there.
At Stanford we have an opportunity to meet people who can become like family. Although staying on campus over Thanksgiving still doesn’t feel like being at “home,” I’m grateful to have a place at all. We all live in dorms and houses around the same campus, share similar struggles and inside jokes. We are away from our families and for many, away from home. In this shared experience, it becomes even more important to care for each other, to be a support and a foundation. The extension of kindness, a simple effort for you, could be a lifeline for somebody else.
Contact Maika Isogawa at misogawa ‘at’ stanford.edu.