Okay, I need to finish the slide I have about your getting the CLS scholarship, Grace. Where is home for you?”
“Jen, that is a loaded question.”
This conversation was had with the Stony Brook external fellowships advisor (a.k.a. the lady who knows everything about scholarships and is also a hilarious human… seriously, she rocks), but it is one I have had more frequently than I care to actually keep track of. It’s one of the first questions you ask someone when you meet for the first time: “Where are you from?” Which has always seemed to mean, “Where is home?” For many of the folks that I’ve met, it’s a defining feature of who they are.
I have lived in fourteen different cities/towns/whatevers (municipalities? maybe?) throughout my life, and in three different countries. I have lived in apartments in major metropolitan cities, and on farms where you could holler to your hearts content and the neighbors would probably never hear you. I speak a version of English that is some kind of weird mix of Central New York and various parts of Rural Pennsylvania, and sometimes even that jumble of words fails and I can only express ideas in my second language. I can drive a tractor, and a motorbike, but undergrounds are still probably my favorite form of transportation.
So where is home?
Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. They say home is where the heart is, but my heart remains in so many little places around this great world I’ve been lucky enough to travel in: in the hot, sticky classrooms where I taught in Indonesia; on the top of the hill that overlooks my family’s farm in Central New York; in room 15 of the National Gallery in London; on the balcony of the apartment where I lived for both my junior and senior years at Ithaca, in the shade of the walnut tree on the farm my family rented in Southeast Pennsylvania; among the trees on the probably-not-an-actual-trail that I found behind my apartment in Stony Brook. They’ve all shaped who I am, and they all feel a whole lot like what I expect home is supposed to mean.
There is a fabulous TedTalk by Taiye Selasi (who, by the way, is an amazing novelist whom I 100% recommend) called “Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, Ask Where I’m a Local,” and what she has to say resonates with me on many levels, especially towards the end of her speech, when she says:
The myth of national identity and the vocabulary of coming from confuses us into placing ourselves into mutually exclusive categories. In fact, all of us are multi — multi-local, multi-layered. To begin our conversations with an acknowledgement of this complexity brings us closer together, I think, not further apart.
Though I may not be “originally” from, well, pretty much anywhere, I have managed to become some kind of local in a whole lot of places. And I’ve decided to take that one step further, and just go ahead and call all those places home.
In the past few weeks, this has meant that I have had a fair number of consecutive homecomings. I returned from a wedding in Virginia, walked into the crowded apartment I share with five other girls in Stony Brook, put down my bags, and gave a sigh of relief. Home.
Less then a week later I boarded a train out of New York City to head back into Central New York. As the scenery changed and the fields started to look awfully familiar, I set down my crocheting and just smiled out the window. Home.
I just finished packing my bags for a third time in just as many weeks, this time in preparation for the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) in Indonesia, a two-month program I will be participating in this summer. And with this packing comes another homecoming, as CLS Indonesia is located in Malang, the same city I taught in during my first year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship. Home.
Yes, I will be going for a different purpose (I will be studying Indonesian instead of teaching English), and with a different group of people (it was just my site mates and I when I first when to Malang—this time, I’ll have a whole cohort with me), and I won’t be in exactly the same place (I lived on one of my school’s campus’s before, which was actually just outside of Malang, and this time I’ll be living basically in the heart of the city). And yet, there is something about this trip that feels like going home.
And so here I go… until I eventually return to my other homes again.
Food of the Week: If there is one thing everyone I know who returns to Indonesia gets really excited about, it’s getting to eat Indonesian food again. I don’t feel I did a good enough job highlighting the amazing foods of Indonesia when I was with Fulbright, and so I’m going to do so here each week while I’m in CLS.
For now, though, I’m going to give a shout-out to farm-fresh milk. And farm-fresh eggs. And farm-fresh, well, pretty much farm-fresh anything. I was food spoiled growing up, y’all.
Word of the Week: Since I am going to be in Indonesia on a language-learning program, I thought it would be neat to share at least one favorite word each week. Since the program hasn’t started yet, we’ll go back to one of my favorite words that I learned during my first year as an ETA: betah, which means to feel at home.
Person(s) of the Week: As cool as food and words are (especially words), I’ve always found it’s the people that make any experience what it is, so be prepared for some heart-eye-emoji goodness in this section here. This week, my people of the week are all the folks I got to catch up with during my ever so brief visit home. I love y’all. And for those I didn’t get to see this time around: I’ll catch ya later. The homecomings never stop.