My Definition of Home

My Home: Where I Am Most Understood

Last week, when actively scouring the web for new reading material, I stumbled upon Denizen, an online magazine catered to reaching out to third culture kids all over the internet. I had happened upon the website before in previous years, but this was the first time I sat down to read through the articles. Touching on issues that resonate with every third culture kid hidden in every possible pocket of the world, there are articles about identity, experiences, relationships, community, and various showcases of the third cultured cause. All underline a very strong sense of human interest. In very quick succession, I found several favourites, all of which relate to the search for home. Reading them made me think of my own journey.

My Home: It Can Be Chosen & Sometimes It Chooses Me

For most of my life, when people asked me where I felt the most at home, I would immediately reply with, “Jakarta”. It would be justified with a handful of textbook definitions of what made it an acceptable response: I was born and raised there, I spent a large portion of my formative years there, I hold substantial attachments to the place and the selected inhabitants who have become part of my life, and most of all, of all the places I have been, I feel the most comfortable. These things still hold water today.

But since then I have lived in two more countries aside from Indonesia, one of which was Singapore, and I embraced it lovingly as a second home. I don’t live in there anymore, and I know I don’t live with the hope that one day I’ll live there again, but I also don’t limit myself to the notion of it being a virtual impossibility. With the idea of having more than one place to call home, the concept of home has become increasingly intangible, placing more value on its meaning rather than its location.

I also keep in contact with a large handful of my classmates from high school. It moves me to know that in spite of the fact that some of them haven’t returned to Jakarta since going off to college, it’s still very much considered their home. Some even list that as their hometowns on their Facebook profiles. I’d like to believe that it’s because some people’s experiences involve such a profound connection with certain places, that passports may not be the deciding power in naming what people consider home.

My Home: It Isn’t (Necessarily) Hereditary

If anyone were to ask my immediate family members to identify where or what they consider home, my parents and I will have different answers. We should have different answers because we grew up in different places, and we also have varying degrees of attachments to certain locations. This type of circumstance may be unique in comparison to others who may have remained rooted to one place for their entire lives, and my mobility has ingrained me with the belief that defining home is and should be a conscious decision. I could never really wrap my head around the following thing I hear on occasion: “This is the home of your ancestors. Therefore, this is your home too.”

Should this ethos work for you personally, then good for you. But it doesn’t fly with me. While I am open to the idea that it could also mean the sweet sentiment of home is being shared to the various branches of the family tree, to insist on attachment by proxy in the name of the previous generation is something I cannot bring myself to accept. If I had to be consistent with that logic and take my Spanish lineage into account, then I might as well state my home is Spain. Never mind that I have never traveled there, nor have any idea what part of the country my ancestors hail from, nor have any other attachment to the country other than a fascination for its culture. (Not that Spain can never be my home, of course. Should I be granted the opportunity to live there in the future, it can potentially become a home for me, too.)

Growing up with many people who find the notion of home everywhere and nowhere at the same time made me unaffected by the notion of home to be something inherited or ascribed. This gave me the gift of looking for and defining home for myself.

My Home: It Goes Beyond the Physical

After realising I found home in more than just one place, I realised the sentiment exceeds worldly and materialistic views. Those who might be less sensitive to the idea may bring up things like Jakarta’s unreal traffic jams or back stories of bomb threats and various attacks. For Singapore, it could be its reputation as a nanny state, or the fact that it’s a small place. I’ve even endured the antagonistic comparison of malls, restaurants, cultural habits of people, and — get this — levels of pollution, all of which seemed like an ego-driven measuring contest and fulfilled just as little.

But, here’s the thing: they’re all physical. Beyond that, it boils down to experience and personal taste.

If my criteria for home were simply based on the tangible things, my attachment to these places wouldn’t be as substantial. My ideal of home factors in the more intangible things, such as relationships, emotional attachments, experiences, and memories associated with these places. It can even be those things. I carry them all with me, as I did before, and will continue to do for the rest of my life. In the discomfort of physical inconsistency, these are precisely what makes the permanence of a home to me.

What About You?

Is home a place, a person (or people), or an idea to you? Where, who, and where is it/are they?


  1. Maria Celina

    @Tanja: Thanks for sharing your experience, Tanja. Having a dual citizenship can be taxing when confronted with an overtly nationalistic approach towards loyalty to country. In fact, after one particular interlude, I remembered joking with a fellow TCK that some people are “quite protective over their belongings”.

    For some years already, I have had this fantasy of the possibility of a global passport, a passport that could open the doors to every nation in the globe without the hassle of visa applications and whatever presumption hurdles that applicants have to jump over in order for the visa to be approved. I can also imagine those passports costing at least several body parts, though.

    @Skye: Skye, I agree with your point about home being a place that still welcomes you like a long-time friend, no matter how long you’ve been gone. It is definitely the sensation that I feel whenever I return to Jakarta from wherever I went. The warmth of that welcome can be something that I can attribute to as one of my personal definitions of “home”.

    @jannie: Jannie, I have a feeling those who ask where you are “really” from are simply trying to match your ethnic background with a place — basically, it’s a question of physical attributes and accepted associations. For those who aren’t exposed to TCKs and the lifestyles cannot picture the idea of home taken on a less materialistic, physical form, or as a conscious decision. I empathise, and I applaud you for sticking with your answer!

  2. jannie

    honestly, up until now i still don’t know what to tell people when they ask me where i’m from or where my hometown is. most of the time i tell them i’m from escondido, but they would ask where i’m ORIGINALLY from. uhh… i was born in seattle, but i was only 6-weeks-old when we moved out. i don’t think that’s really much of a home. especially because i don’t remember anything at all about it.

    i don’t know about these people who ask where i’m ORIGINALLY from, but escondido or san diego will always be my answer. even though my family and i have moved around a lot, we keep coming back here no matter what. home is where your heart takes you. it’s also the place where everything and everyone is familiar to you. home is also a place that grows on you too. lastly, it’s a place you’re attached to.

    wow. this post touched me a lot. :)

  3. Skye

    I also refer to Sydney as my “home town”. It’s the place that, despite all of the other places I’ve travelled to, that I love the most. I think it’s that feeling of familiarity, along with the fact that its characteristics suit my tastes so well (busy, but not too many people like in Asia, beautiful weather most of the time, culturally diverse…)! I used to identify “home” as being where my family was also, but I had a massive break with my parents just before I left for KL and I’ve found myself recently thinking about why I used to love returning “home” – and why I’m not so eager to return again any time soon.

    But after all that, I still think home is where even if you’ve spent a loooong time away, it welcomes you back with open arms and doesn’t care about how long it’s been since you’ve been gone (or what you’ve done in the interim!).

  4. Nikz

    Touching entry! I’ve met others who don’t quite know what to answer when asked, “where’s your home”?

    Home, for me, is defined by the people surrounding me. If I’m still living here, but all my friends would’ve left the country, I don’t think I would feel just at home as I’d previously think. But I also like that notion of home being where you are understood and accepted :)

    Hope you’re doing well, Marzie-boo! *Hugs*

  5. Kristine

    I would not consider the house where I live in “a home”, simply because I’m surrounded by a dysfunctional family that constantly fights and puts each other down. That’s just not something anyone would want to come home to after a day’s work in the office or school.

    To me, my definition of home would be anywhere with my significant other. Unfortunately, we don’t live together, yet. Hopefully, when I go off to medical school, we’ll move in together. (I’m praying for that!)

    I can’t stand my own family. There’s just so much hatred within this household, that it pains me to be here. I’m just counting down the days till I can finally be on my own and actually be with people that care for me. (Ironically, the people that care for me isn’t my family.)

  6. Brenda

    Ever since I shifted house three years ago, I’ve become slightly confused about what I refer to as ‘home’.

    Back when I was at Bedok Reservoir, I always believed that I would remain there for eternity, because there was where I grew up (I lived there since I was born, until I turned 21), had most of my memories, and that I loved the sights and surroundings. Until we were made to move out because of commercial reasons (think en bloc), and I settled into this new place near Eunos for the past two and a half years.

    After living here for a while, I now feel that even if given the chance to move back to my previous home (assuming that my old place is still there and the en bloc didn’t happen), I wouldn’t. I guess I’ve grown rather attached to the new place and gotten used to the new way of life, not to mention the new memories created here.

    If I want to refer to ‘home’ as something constant and brings me comfort, then it’d most definitely have to be my room. I’ve kept my room decor more or less similar to the one at the old place, so there is still some familiarity among the ‘newness’.

  7. Chris

    As much as it pains me to quote an oft-used axiom, “home is where the heart is”, it really is true. And my heart, right now, is in the house I share with my sisters and mom. When I go to my grandma’s place I am at home. Why? You guessed it, my heart belongs there.

    Home is where love is. I can’t think of a better place to stay and grow old and fart randomly than my home.

  8. Caity

    I love this entry. I think that I’ve always made the delineation between “house” and “home.” My house was always the physical place where I was living – where I came back at the end of the day, kept all my things, and slept at night. My home was the physical are where I belonged… it was my significant other, my family, my friends, and my entire being. It always will change and morph and grow and travel with me wherever I go and will always be where I feel the most at peace.

  9. Tanja

    Whenever people ask me, where is your home? Immediately thoughts of a black sand beach, in rural Philippines hits me. That is where I am most comfortable and relaxed (although it is notorious as a communist rebel territory :) ). But when I think about it more, I have a physical home in the UK and the Philippines and had one in Switzerland and Jakarta, and I reference all this place at times as ‘going home’. ‘Going home to Switzerland…going home to the Philippines…going home to Indonesia…going home’. So I think the real home isn’t anything physical.

    I find that I feel most at home is when I am surrounded by people who care about me and who I care about. No matter what culture or region of the world.

    I think the next question you should tackle is: ‘So what nationality are you?’ Seriously, this is a question that has pissed me off a lot! I am dual national, but apparently, get this, one nationality has to be more dominant than the other 0_o

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