Feeling Homesick For A Place That’s Not Your Home

When you’re young, your imagination is free to run wild. You’re not limited by societal norms or any inclination of what should be, but rather, you embrace the possibility of everything that could be. As you grow older, you start to develop a separation between dreams and reality: the life that you have and the one you wish you did.

Growing up in the States, my world view and perspective was shaped by western standards. As it is for anyone growing up or living anywhere, my imagination became limited to what was present in my everyday life. It’s hard, perhaps impossible, for humans to completely create new concepts that they have never been introduced to. I’ve heard that we can only dream of the faces we have seen in real life, and this is why when we try to conceptualize an “alien”; it often takes the form of some combination of animals that we’ve already seen.

Travel combats this fixation on our immediate surroundings. Going to new places exposes us to things that may seem unworldly to us. It immerses us in new languages, cultures, and experiences that are not just foreign, but may have been inconceivable just moments before arrival to said new place. And sometimes these experiences are so powerful that once we experience them, we can never go back to a time before we had. It’s like an enlightenment.

When I went to Asia for the first time in January of 2017, more specifically Japan, I was suddenly in a world that was entirely new to me. I felt like I did when I was a kid, like my whole world became so much bigger.

I had never really known anyone from Japan, and the extent of my Japanese knowledge was limited to what I had learned in the classroom and what I had seen on TV or in manga. But when I made my first Japanese friends, they opened my heart and my mind. Their experiences growing up were so different than mine, yet when we spent time together, I had some of the most fun I’ve ever had doing these things I had never done.

People always say, “home is where the heart is.” And if you’re like me, this statement makes a lot of sense in terms of giving your heart to a new place and falling in love with it. It’s mind-boggling, but in going to Japan, I fell in love with it, the same way you fall in love with a person.

When you’re in love with a person, you can’t really explain the feeling to anyone; you just sort of know. You don’t just fall in love with them as a whole, but all of their little habits and quirks. You accept their flaws, and you might disagree with them, but at the end of the day, there’s no one you would rather be with.

Now, translate this to how I feel about Japan: you might think it’s crazy that I was only there for a week, but I knew it as soon as I walked through the cold streets of Kyoto, as the snow was falling around me. I knew it when I heard the wind blow through the bamboo trees in Arashiyama. I felt it as I approached the vibrant red shrine at Inari. And it wasn’t just that I was in love with the scenery, I fell in love with the toilets (they are heated and have bidets). I fell in love with the attention to detail in every craft: from sewing, to woodworking, to preparing a bowl of ramen. I fell in love with the cleanliness and humility. Sure, there were areas I didn’t love so much, and the language barrier was difficult, but the feeling was so strong I felt I could overcome these  obstacles with time, patience and effort.

My heart longs to be in Japan, but it also longs for other places I’ve been and even places I haven’t  been. I guess I just have the heart of a traveler. I believe that certain places capture our heart and stay with us, not for any real rational reason but because they give us some new feeling we’ve never felt before. Because while there is comfort in the familiar, there is excitement and possibility in something new.

It’s hard to explain to people why I love travel so much, and why the idea of exploring with no real “home” is appealing to me. It’s not just the sites that I see, the food I eat, the ambiance that I experience, or the people I meet; it’s some combination of all of those things and more.

If you’re like me, don’t be sad for too long that you can’t be traveling to the places you want. Use your time wherever you are to learn new things about the people or history of that place, because even outside your own door, you can find something new.  or use your time to plan your next trip.

I don’t know when I’ll be back in Japan, but I look forward to the day I return. In the meantime, I am learning the language, keeping in touch with my friends who live there, and doing my best to research as much as I can about it. Let your experience be an inspiration to learn a new language or cultivate a deeper understanding of that culture. Be thankful that you were lucky enough to fall in love with a new place. Besides, if you really loved it, perhaps someday that place will end up being your next “home.”

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Morgan is studying at the University of Auckland during the spring of 2017. Follow her adventures as she crosses oceans to spend five months in New Zealand!

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