Home, Charles Dickens writes, is a word stronger than a magician ever spoke. A word that houses under its roof an entire universe of virtues. To feel at home implies an essential alignment – an ease with the world and with oneself. We all have our ways of building our homes; our own little spells we cast on places and their smells, tastes, sights and sounds to turn them into havens of solace and safety.
Some of these tricks are universal. Like surrounding ourselves with people we love and things that we value. But what happens when we move, when we leave our beloved havens for lands that stretch under foreign skies? When does the new place start feeling like home?
When is it that the fists unclench, the shoulders unknot, the lungs exhale, the walls come down, the shoelaces get untied, the coats get hung, and we realise: I am home?
Seven sensory clues you’re at home.
Here are seven moments – seven plays on the five senses – that can lead us through the maze of unfamiliar streets and unknown pastures towards the doorstep of home.
- When your daily routine begins to include a few new favourites: a new favourite radio station, a new favourite TV show, a new favourite magazine. (Even if you don’t understand most of what you are hearing, watching, reading.)
- When the local foods that you rushed by in unfamiliar supermarket aisles become staples in your kitchen.
- When someone stops you on the street and asks you for directions, and you confidently navigate them to their destination. Just as kind strangers once did for you on those same streets.
- When you notice bits and pieces of their culture reflecting in your own behaviour – from the way you talk to the way you think.
- When you meet someone. Someone, whose presence soothes the heartache of past goodbyes. Someone whose friendship gifts you with light – even on days when the sun is nowhere to be found. Someone, who despite being a newcomer to your narrative, becomes an indispensable character in your story.
- When you find a corner of the new land – be it among the tall pines in a morning forest or the lively cafés at a town square – that becomes one of your favourite spots in the world. A spot that you can travel to every time you close your eyes if only to smell its air and to taste the joy it brings you.
- When you stumble upon your new culture during your travels (tourists, language, foods, number plates), and you realise, all flustered and gleeful, that you can’t wait to go back. Back to home.
Homes are not built overnight. After all, the magic involved in securing a nest extends far beyond a thousand and one twigs. It might take some time, as we stand at the banks of an unfamiliar stream, vulnerable and hesitant, holding on to memories of all that we left behind.
We might dip our toes in the new waters, only to rush back to the safety of the shore. We might stay there for a while, by the comfort of the rustling willows, watching the stream go by. But then, on one spectacular sunrise, we will find ourselves releasing our grip and jumping in, with hearts restored with hope and resilience. And that is when the stream – sometimes turbulent, other times blissfully still – will carry us home.
Which is your strongest “home sense”?
First published on Expat Nest.