Christine Hurst is an API Peer Mentor who studied abroad in Rome, Italy.

Maybe it’s where you grew up. Maybe it’s where you learned to ride a bike or where you learned to swim. Maybe it’s where you’ve celebrated your birthdays, in the same kitchen, opened Christmas presents or lit the hanukkiah year after year.

The most common phrase I keep hearing, now that graduation is just around the corner, is: “I’m going home.” But the more I hear it – and the more I keep saying it myself – the stranger it is in my head. In the last two years I’ve had four addresses; and only two of them have been in this country. Only one of them has been with the people who raised me. So, yes, I’m returning to the place where I grew up, but does that really mean I’m going home?

To me, home is a concept, a construct, and it’s different for everyone. “Home” could be your porch, your garden, your car, your favorite summer ice cream stand. “Home” could be your suitcase, your passport, your pillow. “Home” could be that faraway look in your eyes when you talk about the foreign city that so intimidated you when you arrived, which you hated to leave and can’t wait to go back. Could be that group of people, perhaps only gathered in the same place in time for a single year or a single semester or even a single summer, and somehow creeping everyone’s Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr isn’t quite the same thing as actually being together again.

For me, “home” is all of these and none of these at the same time. For me, home is the streets and sidewalks I traverse every day, cobblestone or concrete; home is the shops and stores and restaurants which I visit or pass by on a regular basis; home is the familiar smile from the shopkeepers and crossing guards. Home is knowing how the sun hits the uppermost corners of the buildings first thing in the morning, and how sunset touches the rivers and windows late in the evening. Home is knowing bus numbers and routes and stops, and waiting casually at the street corner after school with the locals.

Home is knowing what day the fruit will be fresh at market, or remembering to duck my head when I pass through certain doorways. Home is chatting with the neighbors over hanging laundry to dry on sunny days, then laughing together when it suddenly starts to rain. Home is where I first learned that language barriers only make birthday parties more fun, where I first understood in a very experiential way that all people cry over the same things, laugh for the same reasons, and stop to watch the sunset.

Home is not about things staying the same but instead about growing accustomed to the differences, hearing the sound of Malayalam spoken throughout the house, or the smells of African cooking. Home is making dinner together, though none of us speak the same language. Home is about embracing the togetherness and comfort that we find in one another, which I found in my housemates both semesters I was abroad. Two very different countries, two very different experiences, two very different sets of people. And Skyping with them does not make me miss them less. Though it does serve to remind me how lucky I am to have met them at all.

And I feel so fortunate in knowing that I’m never too far from a place I call home, because home is all of those things and more. I know that when I move away from the town in which I grew up, I’m not really leaving home but instead relocating to a different one. Making a new one. Nobody ever said I have to have just one. There is something very comforting in understanding that no matter where I go – to a foreign country, among non-English-speaking people, in a far-off land – I always know that I can find a way to feel at home.

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