When you ask someone where they are from or call home, you typically have some assumptions about how they might respond. One of the beauties of being an immigrant is that we get to define where our home is, and sometimes we have multiple places that we consider our home. The famous saying "home is where the heart is" has a very different meaning to me after living as an immigrant in multiple countries over 21 years.
In this blog post, I will share the evolution of how I think about home and the five lessons that I have learned on my journey. Check out my other Her Relocation blog posts about my experiences living in Nigeria, Germany, and the US.
Starting point: What does home mean to me?
Over the past 21 years of living in multiple countries and cities, I have had to redefine what home means to me. At the beginning of my time in Germany, I thought Nigeria was home. It was where I had spent my childhood, and most of my family still lived. As the years progressed and I started growing my life in Germany, I began to feel Germany was home. It was where I had spent my young adulthood and started my serious life. Then the US became home once I planted my roots and went on to have our son here. Home is wherever I live, build memories, spend time with people I love, and do things I am destined to do.
Answering the question about my heritage and home
Although many of my friends also experienced this, especially living in Germany, I cannot believe that people thought it was acceptable to ask people questions about when they are returning home. There is no more effective way to let people know they are not welcome and do not belong than a question like that. Asking someone where they are from already lets them know that you think they are from a different place. I have gotten used to the questions and have educated people on alternative ways to phrase the question. However, the question of when I am going back to where I came from will never be ok. The truth is I am at home here or wherever we choose to live next.
Finding and building my home
When people talk about home, they associate it with a physical space. Throughout my life, I have lived in almost 20 houses. When I moved to the US was the first time that I had lived in a single place for now over seven years. If I had based my definition of home on the physical space, I would never have felt the sense of home. For me, home is more about the sense of belonging and how I feel in my heart. I have been fortunate to feel at home at various phases of my life, and I also know the feeling of not being able to belong where I am.
Accepting that I can have multiple places I call home
With my family living in the Bay Area, I call the US home. In addition, I still feel at home every time I visit Germany and Nigeria in different ways. All the countries that I have lived in symbolize a critical aspect of where home is for me. Nigeria gave me a lot of my cultural roots, like food, while Germany allowed me to grow into who I am today, and the US taught me to shine and be my whole self. Each of my home countries has a different meaning to me; they are all my home.
Creating my home wherever I am
It took me seven years of living in Germany before I started feeling at home. I had first to change my mindset about where I called home. My experiences improved significantly after I accepted Germany as my home. I started growing my network, integrating myself more into the community, and finding things that made my life in Germany fun. When I moved to the US over seven years ago, I quickly adapted to being at home in the US. One of the things that I have learned is a crucial factor in my feeling at home is food. In Germany, I was on a search to find places to get Nigerian food ingredients, and now that I am in the US, I am on a constant search for German bread. It might seem very trivial, but the food is something that helps me recreate my home where I find myself.
Five Lessons that I have learned about "home"
Over the past 21 years, I have learned a lot of valuable lessons that have helped me find my place and feel at home
The next time you think about asking someone where they are from or where they call home, remember that they belong wherever they decide to be. In our world today, people move to live in different places and build their home in whatever way they choose to. We can all help people feel a sense of belonging whenever our paths cross.