My first few months of college, I felt oddly disoriented. I hadn't been at GW long enough for it to truly become home — although it certainly didn't take long for me to call it as such. At the same time, I realized quickly that my home in New Jersey was no longer mine. It was my parents' house, it was the place I'd tell people I lived during high school, it was the place I'd return for holidays and short breaks but it would never be home the way it was before college. Something had changed and I felt unprepared, blindsided. I'm often anxious when big changes happen in my life, and the more something means to me the more I overthink, over-analyze, over-internalize. But I hadn't anticipated that in gaining a new home, I'd lose home altogether.
Now, nearly three years later, my understanding of home has become even more muddled. I have more homes than ever before, spread across different cities and different families and even different continents.
As I write this now, I'm sitting on the plane. In between the sentences I've written so far, the plane started. The engine whirred and we pushed forward. Hyderabad, in the middle of a drought, is as brown and grey from up here as it is down below. The sun reflects off of metal rooftops and the higher we go the more gems I see in the City of Pearls. There's a lot of smog today, and somewhere in between land and sky the horizon blurs into a grey-blue. Is this home? Not anymore.
Leaving Spain was brutal. This? Less so. I've been processing the end for weeks, have been anticipating the goodbyes and the see-you-laters and the hugs and the tears and the last times. The last time I take an auto. The last visit to campus. The last time I pet the two strays on my side of campus. The last time I buy chocolate from the south campus shopping complex. The last time I hug each of my friends. The last time I hug my family, for now.
And by some miracle, I didn't unravel upon leaving. And even though some of my goodbyes were left unsaid — after all, you don't always know when you're in the middle of your last visit to a spot in the city, you don't always know when you're seeing someone for the last time — I was okay. Because it's not as though I'm going home, at least not to the home that is the U.S. I'm going to Bombay, to my grandparents' place, to that home.
And even when I leave India in a few short days, I'm going to visit family in Muscat, to spend ten days in Oman and Dubai. Only then will I return to New Jersey, to a house full of people I haven't seen in months and a jet-lagged first meal of real pizza and a bed with soft pillows and a world of Starbucks and central air conditioning. Do I miss all of that? I did. At many points in these past five months, I've missed it all. But right now, sitting in this plane, I miss none of it. Not iced coffee, not driving, not even pizza. I miss my aunt and uncle already and I wish my friend was sitting next to me as she was on my last trip to Bombay. But I'm going home, and then I'm going to another home. And I guess that's the thing about having multiple homes. You can either chose to stay in a constant state of missing — missing people and place and all that comes with the two — or you can just accept your fate. Accept that part of you will always belong somewhere else, that the rest of you is here. You can just give in to being wherever you are, sink back into your seat, and enjoy your stay for however long it lasts. After all, you're only home for so long.
On a recent visit to Sri Lanka, I was talking to Nadee, the owner one of the Airbnb guesthouses my friend Jesse and I stayed at. Nadee was born in Sri Lanka and has also lived in India, but has spent most of her time in the UK. I told her about where I was from and how I'd spent some time in Spain and she nodded understandingly. "You're looking for home, too," she said. "So am I."
I didn't come to Hyderabad with the expectation of it becoming home, and I don't really think it is now. All my friends have left or are leaving soon. I just left. And when I drove through the city in auto rickshaw or car during my last week, I didn't feel the sentimentality I felt in Madrid. I'm not detached by any means, but this is always just going to be the city I lived in for a few months; the city in which I met the people that made my experience what it is; the city in which I lived with two amazing, inspiring, strong, and loving human beings; the city I studied abroad in. But my study abroad experience hasn't been about me and Hyderabad — it's been about me and India.
I've learned so much here. A year ago, I bought my tickets to Spain and it seems like since then my life has been moving forward more quickly than ever before. I've spent nine of the past twelve months outside of the United States, across seven other countries. Isn't that crazy? So much about who I am and what I want and what I've experienced has changed. I define myself by different parameters now. I'm more sure of myself and yet I'm more willing to admit that I don't know what I want, that I hardly know anything at all. And now, after nearly five months in this city, it's all over.
This semester has been crazy. I've come to question so much and I've come to appreciate so much of what my life is. I've been forced to confront how insanely privileged I am. I've learned to stop asking for more, to become patient for what's to come. I've learned to redefine what's important to me in all sorts of relationships — platonic, romantic, and familial. It's not that I've changed; I've simply grown into myself a little bit more.
And for the hundredth time, I'm reminded of how important this decision was — this decision to come to India. To study here. To grow here. To feel a little more uncomfortable before becoming wholly comfortable altogether.
But as I've said before in numerous other posts, there's nothing like travel to make you question what home is. I don't really tie my definition of home to any place or any people. At this point in my life, I simply can't. I don't live where I grew up or where I was born and I make new friends every year, every day. And this city isn't home to me. I'm grateful for that; it's a relief to not feel so intensely attached to a city for once. But this experience has certainly felt like home.
But now, unlike three years ago when I started college, I don't feel as though I have no home. Rather, I feel like I have many homes. My parents' place in New Jersey, my new apartment in DC, my grandparents' flat in Mumbai, my host family's place in Madrid, my aunt and uncle's place in Hyderabad. None of these homes belong to me; none of them are truly mine. But they've made me who I am. They're the places that mark so many different parts of who I am, who I've grown into.
Like my definition of home, my definition of family has always been a bit confused. Growing up, my grandparents lived 8,000 miles away from me, and even though I'm very attached to the extended family I have in the New Jersey area, I've always felt a bit separate. So much of my identity separates me from my family, and it's something that I've been used to for years. And when I came here to Hyderabad to live with my aunt and uncle, I didn't come with too many expectations. I didn't think things would be as comfortable and natural and loving as they are. I didn't anticipate how much I would feel taken care of, how much I would feel like two people would love me and care for me and make me laugh and for once, I didn't anticipate how difficult goodbye would be.
It's crazy — before I even got to Spain I had anticipated saying goodbye to my host family would be difficult. And it was. But when I came here, I was just trying to wrap my head around living in India for five months. I didn't even think about how much I'd get closer to my family here, how difficult moving away from them would be for me.
I guess all I'm saying is, I've found a home here. Not in this city, but with these people. With my uncle and my aunt and our little fambam, as we've come to call it. These two understand my sense of humor, they know how I show love, they know how to make me happy and take care of me and I'd like to think I can do the same for them. I've come to appreciate the idea of family more than ever before and by some miracle my understanding and definition of home have become even more complicated.
And maybe that's my favorite thing about travel. You find home in the least expected of places. You find love in the least expected of places.