By Genny Rice, from her blog Tea Time Traveler
During my short twenty years on this earth, I have learned the very useful skill of conversing with people who I am not supposed to have anything in common with. I have spoken with people who grew up on the other side of the world from me, those who have never flipped a light switch because they don’t have electricity where they live, those who have never used a western toilet before, or those who have six toilets in only one of their many houses. These are just a few examples of the groups that I have interacted with and with each of them, I have been able to find a way to connect. Do you want to know the secret of making conversation with people from so many different walks of life? Questions. The answer is to ask simple questions where you can find commonalities between your life and theirs. My connection with the villagers who haven’t used an indoor toilet before was our numbers of siblings. I connected with the people who hadn’t ever had access to electricity through our pets. I connected with the girl whose family owns a string of hotels and houses over how much we both love bread. There are points that hold the entire world together in a huge web, we just have to know which string to tug to draw humanity a little bit closer.
But what happens when one of these fundamental questions doesn’t apply to you anymore? What happens when one of the most basic small talk questions makes you panic and your answer stops all conversation? That is the boat that an entire culture, myself included, finds themselves in. You might be wondering what simple question causes such panic and here it is, the dreaded “Where are you from?”.
For years, this question has remained unanswerable for me. I am a Third Culture Kid or someone who has spent their developmental years outside of their parents’ home country and culture. My culture is not what it should be. I am not American like my parents, and I am not Hungarian, even though I grew up there. Home is an elusive creature that I am running after, trying desperately to discover, yet completely unable to ever catch a glimpse of. I have searched in the back alleys of the city that I grew up in, Budapest, Hungary. I have wandered down dark alleys between the bright sunlit cathedrals, searching, always searching for a place that might help me to understand that missing piece inside of myself. I have searched in the country that claims the cover of my passport, America. I have spent two years searching at university, looking for someplace, someone that will finally make me feel at home. I have even searched within a community that shares my culture. Culture is what makes a large part of home after all, but while I have found a cultural identity, I have not found Home.
Finally, I hit a wall. I broke. I have searched in every place I can think to look, I have pushed through the pain of loss, I have sacrificed my past and my culture to make others feel more comfortable, and I have lived in the solitude of being completely and utterly lost. The past twenty years have not taught me where I belong; I still hesitate when people ask me where I am from, my mind hopelessly bouncing between Hungary and America. However, on the roads I tracked over these past years, I did find something.
I discovered that home is more than a place when I went back to Budapest after my family left and found the streets of my memory strangely empty even though they were full of people. Home is defined by the people that live the endless summer days and the sleepy winter nights with you, not just the landscape you live it in.
I found that home is more than a group of people. My family still comes together every year for the holidays. We sit in my parents’ house and reminisce about the days when we knew where we belonged even though we were in a land that did not legally claim us. Now, even when we are together, we are lost in a country that does not make cultural sense to us anymore, even though my passport is blue and has a gold eagle on the front claiming me for some culture that I don’t even completely understand.
I realized that home is more than a culture when I spent three months with seventy people that identify as the same culture as me: third culture mutt. While these people didn’t cringe when I talked about vacationing in Croatia, unlike some of my other friends, they left me feeling empty. We were a group of unknowns, unmentionables, vagrant nobodies dwelling in our homelessness together. While that sounds like community, it also sounds like despair. These people can’t fill the hole that a home identity should, they just remind me that it exists.
Home is not a place, Home is a choice.
I know that all that I have learned sounds hopeless, but when put together, it creates something more. I discovered that home will never exist for me in the same way it would if I had lived in my passport country, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a home. Home is not a place, Home is a choice. A choice to love where you are. A choice to invest in the community. A choice to invite other people to know you, all of you, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. A choice to continue to try even when all hope is lost, because home doesn’t have to be the same thing to everyone or even one thing to one person. So, no I don’t know where I am from. But I know that I am from a bluish grey house in Hungary. I am from a huge cherry tree, perfect for hiding among the birds. I am from Lufthansa, Delta, and Malev, the airlines that carried me across the ocean to my extended family and back to my pets, school, and friends. I am from the summers spent in America and the winters in Hungary, teaching me Fahrenheit for warm temperatures and Celsius for the cold. I am from my university’s magnolia trees and white columns (yes, I live in the South). Home is where I create it.
So, what have I learned?
Home is not a place, person, or identity, Home is a choice. Today, I choose Home, not the other way around.
Genny Rice is an associate with MK2MK. She grew up in Budapest, Hungary and is now a junior at Anderson University. This semester she is studying English abroad in London. She spent the summer in South Africa helping to lead mk2mk’s summer project and writing for our blog. Find more from Genny on her blog Tea Time Traveler.