Culture Shock is a blog that analyzes the experiences, from awkward to awe-inspiring, of moving abroad for a semester as junior Annie Cappetta studies in the Czech Republic.
I have only been in Prague for a month. Much of the city remains unfamiliar to me and, if we’re being honest, I only finished unpacking last week. Prague is not home; I have 20 years in Chicago and three in Miami that have made me far more connected to those cities.
Yet, on the tram back to my little, freshly unpacked dorm room, I said, “Wow, I’m so happy to go home. I get to use my own shower and sleep in my own bed tonight!”
It wasn’t just something I said, or an exaggerated feeling; I really felt like I was coming home when I arrived back in the sleazy CZ – see, we already have affectionate nicknames for our new home rivaling the beloved 305.
After spending a weekend in Dresden, barely able to figure out where to buy tickets for public transit, it felt good knowing how to take the trusty tram 22 back home. I’m far from fluent in Czech, but I at least know how to say, “I don’t understand Czech. I speak English,” to navigate communication problems. I also know how to say “I’m allergic to peanuts,” instead of almost dousing my pulled pork in peanut sauce, thinking it was barbecue, before cautiously looking up what “erdnuss” meant in German.
Basically, home is just feeling of relative safety and comfort. I felt like I was coming home to Prague after short weekends trips because I know my way around a bit more. I am definitely more comfortable in my dorm than in a 6-bed hostel room with a strange old man.
The more I travel, the more I realize that home is not a place at all: it’s a feeling. And if that feeling can be so relative, it really is possible to be at home everywhere you go. It just requires honest, unwavering security with yourself.
I’ve known one person in my life who’s really achieved that goal. He’s someone who I think about often here because he’s taught me so much about travel and about life. He’s a 92 year-old Holocaust survivor that I had the opportunity to become good friends with through a program that connects students and survivors in an internship.
At his young age, he travels more often than he is home in Miami – taking four or five long trips abroad each year. And when I would ask him about his favorite places in the world, he would always shake his head, rejecting that notion. He has no favorite place. Wherever he is, he lives. He enjoys seeing the individual beauty of every destination, making everywhere his home.
I’m not one to memorize literary quotes and pretentiously whip them out to sound intellectual in writing or conversation, but this classic quote from Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” might be the only one that’s ever stuck with me, and I always come back to it: “You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.”
Insecurities follow you, and a location can neither be the cause, nor the solution to your problems. If you’re comfortable as who you are, home can be anywhere.