How You Know When You’ve Found Where You Belong

Studying abroad was a luxury that I thought I would never be able to afford. Even though I’ve always loved to travel and was lucky enough to go to Europe twice as a teenager, with the cost of college I never fathomed being able to study on the other side of the world. Somehow, I made it happen. I worked my ass off, and with the help of my family and friends (and the loan company), I’ve just finished a six-month semester in England.

As I sit here on my last day, I’m overwhelmed with sadness, happiness, memories, and mostly intense gratitude towards the kindness of strangers.

I didn’t take the normal route for studying abroad — instead of enrolling in a program to take me across the ocean, I direct-enrolled at a British university for a semester. I had no one to fly with, no one to meet at the airport, no one to carry my bags or tell me where to go. I did it myself (and through the kindheartedness of several strangers at Gatwick Airport and on the National Rail). When I arrived to campus, I knew no one. I relied on the kindness of my new flat mates and fellow students to introduce me to their friends, take me out, and show me the ropes.

The places I’ve been — Brighton, London, Barcelona, Dublin, Paris, Bordeaux, Amsterdam — and the amazing things I’ve seen truly leave me speechless. I’ve looked over the Park Guell at the skyline of Barcelona, walked over the tombs of British greats such as Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey, got to meet my best friend from home in Dublin and see the Queen herself (Beyoncé) in concert, had dinner and drinks in front of the Eiffel Tower, tasted some of the best French wine in the world, and got to read Anne Frank’s loopy script from her actual diary (among countless other adventures and experiences).

The people I’ve met here — a few fellow international students and mostly British ones — have become my support system across the world. I’ve stayed in tiny disgusting hostels with them, walked through the Palace of Versailles, gotten a little bit too high in a coffee shop in Amsterdam, been to every Tube stop in London… The list goes on and on. These people who were once just strangers from scattered places across the world have become my friends, travel companions, sounding boards, drinking buddies, and soul mates.

I relied on the kindness of strangers, and I found a family. I found a home.

Home has always been quite an abstract concept for me. I moved around a lot as a kid, and never felt particularly attached to any one house, town, or even state. I moved across the country to go to college and found the place I believe I was meant to be, with the people I was meant to be with. When I left to study abroad, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to replicate this sense of comfort and ease that I felt at my new home in Colorado. I struggled with the concept of being able to connect with people who I would only get to be with for such a short period.

I never expected to find such incredible people, such incredible friends half way around the world, from different countries, backgrounds, some who speak different languages even. I never expected to be made to feel truly at home only a few weeks into my stay in England. I never expected to be so irreparably sad upon leaving. Mostly, I never expected to learn such a huge lesson about life, about love, and about home.

Home truly is where the heart is. It’s not always a place, or a time. It’s people. It’s where you can be with the people who make you laugh, who hold your hand when you cry, who let you scream when you’re angry. It’s going to sleep at night content with the thought of waking up in the morning only to see the faces of those who you have grown to love so very much.

Boulder, Colorado is my home.

Brighton, England is my home.

And I swear I’m just the luckiest person on the planet. So many homes. So many people. So many memories and experiences. And it’s only just beginning.

And who knows where my heart will land next? Who knows what other homes I have to find? TC mark

featured image – Kevin Dooley

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