With the holidays around the corner and a break from uni, many of us have probably headed home. Whether we go by train, car, or plane, most of us have probably experienced the mix of emotions that comes with going home at one point or another. For me at least, whenever I sit on a train back home, letting my thoughts drift as the world flies past me at 200km an hour, there is a very specific feeling. It lies somewhere between being excited to go and see familiar faces and places, and feeling like I am simply taking a vacation to visit my roots, a place that I once used to call home, and to which my relationship has changed, just as irrevocably as I have as a person. It’s a melancholic, yet strangely comforting feeling; one that is simultaneously evident of self-growth and the ever-confusing process of growing up.
Recently, I talked about the idea of home to a friend who, like me, studies abroad and goes home for the holidays and also every once in a while in between. For both of us, coming home is undeniably bound to a weird sensation of being in-between, of belonging to and longing for multiple places and experiences at the same time. There is the experience lived by your current self, in a new place with new people, and then there is your past experience, filled with memories of another life that you still try to hold onto and include in your present. However, each time you go back to revisit home, it never feels quite the same way it used to.
It is paradoxical how familiar yet foreign a place can feel simultaneously. You still recognize your favourite spots, still know every tram stop of your usual route by heart, and still could pinpoint the exact way the streets smelled on a Sunday morning or after a summer rain. You find familiarity when walking the streets and look for your old self at every turn, the café on the corner, the restaurant down the street. Yet, when you step into your room, you barely recognize yourself in there, barely see yourself in the posters still hanging on the wall, the smile in the photos with people you used to see every day but now only talk to occasionally. It almost feels like stepping into someone else’s room, the space of someone you used to know. My friend described it as a feeling of stumbling into someone else’s life, one that feels strangely familiar yet isn’t quite your own.
I remember a quote by Maureen Johnson that my English teacher in high school used to mention, only I have never fully understood until moving away and living abroad.
It goes “You can never visit the same place twice. Each time, it’s a different story. By the very act of coming back, you wipe out what came before.”
I think this is really fitting because it refers to visiting places and the way we change between those visits. After moving away, every time we return home, we have changed and grown into a slightly different person. For me, the longer I live away, the stronger the difference has become between who I used to be and who I am now, and the more perplexing the difference feels between the place I used to call home and the home where I currently live. Perhaps, though, as confusing as this might be at times, it is also a sign of how far you have come, and how much you have grown up.
Writer: Josephine Lehmann
Editor: Nimrat Kaur
Visuals: Iryna Lizenko