I was approached by EF Academy to feature their students writing and I’m happy to include them here. Today, Maya shares her writing.
How Going Abroad Teaches You More About Home
Maya is a 16-year-old student from New York who just completed her sophomore year studying the IGCSE program at EF Academy, New York Thornwood. She is an aspiring writer and aficionado of history, painting and animals, particularly cat Peaches.
Several years ago upon first arriving in Stockholm’s Arlanda airport while moving from my birthplace of Queens, New York, I spotted a sign emblazoned with the phrase “Borta bra men hemma bäst”. A year after, picking up baggage coming back to Sweden after spending the summer back in New York, equipped with a far superior understanding of the Swedish language, I again encountered the sign, and was able to read it, loosely translating it to “Away is good but home is best”.
This phrase is not unique to Swedish. It’s core notion can be found in the English idiom “There’s no place like home”, in the Dutch proverb “Zoals het klokje thuis tikt, tikt het nergens” (“Like the clock ticks at home, it ticks nowhere”), the Finnish saying “Oma maa mansikka; muu maa mustikka” (“Other land blueberry, own land strawberry”), as well as a multitude of phrases in a number of other languages. Home is something people hold a fierce love and pride for quite universally.
However, the conception of home as a thing at odds with other places seems, in my mind, increasingly difficult to reconcile with the self-hood of the modern individual, particularly for myself and others coming-of-age presently and within the next few years. We constitute, more than any generation before us, an epoch of immigrants, polyglots and journeyers. We are being raised in a world made smaller through the internet, increasingly accessible modes of transport, and the deepening implications of our heritages. With this, our understandings of home have become less and less concrete; an understanding which I feel is enhanced greatly by going abroad.
The New York suburb in which I was raised is called Rockaway Beach. It has a population of approximately 13,000. It is a small town on the fringe of a massive metropolis. Growing up, I could never imagine a future outside of it. While this was not the case for all of my childhood friends, it was for many, as it is for many worldwide. For eleven years, I called Rockaway home, and I intended to for the rest of my life.
Moving to Sweden changed all of that for me. For the first sixth months after I moved, I rejected my new place of residence. The fall was bitterly cold and dark. The language was alien, the cuisine was unfamiliar, and the mannerisms of the people incomprehensible to me. I refused to explore, engage, or appreciate; and I refused to refer to our new apartment as home.
As the months lapsed into years, my rejection of Sweden and Swedish culture fell into tolerance, and then respect, and then, all at once, love. Sweden’s bounty of forests, lakes and wildlife enchanted me. I developed an affection for smoked salmon. The language became interesting, and then comforting, and then, blissfully, intelligible.
Going abroad allowed me to love a culture for its own distinct customs. Beyond that, it allowed me to identify my home in a place halfway across the world. Many of the Swedes I know hold a marked love of converse. There is TGI Friday’s in the center of Stockholm’s commercial district. TLC’s Cake Boss is played regularly on cable TV over the weekends.
Dually, going abroad makes you appreciate those things entirely unique to home. Shockingly, Swedish Fish aren’t sold in Sweden; the candy was developed for the US market. The Halloween celebrations are incomparable, and St Patty’s day isn’t really a thing. There’s no buzz of chatter or conversing with strangers on public transport; out of politeness, Swedes are very quiet in most public spaces.
Last year, I moved back to New York alone to attend EF Academy, an international boarding school which also has campuses in England. I had a roommate from Vietnam, and one from China. My classmates were Norwegian, Danish, Indian, Angolan, Thai and Korean; my close friends regularly conversed with others in German and Portuguese. I found myself again finding pieces of the cultures that I identified with, this time in testimonies of places I had never even seen for myself.
And when I was asked where I was from- a question used to identify somebody’s home- I found myself torn.
I held both a Swedish and American passport. My time in Sweden had been less than half of what I had spent in New York, yet it had encompassed some of my most formative years. Most importantly, I knew that living abroad had changed me forever, to such an extent that I attribute my attendance at EF to my original move. Without my time abroad, I doubt I would have had the will, courage or adaptability necessary to choose a school halfway across the world from my family in a deeply international environment. Going abroad not only gave me a new found appreciation of my home, it allowed me to adopt a new culture as another one. It taught me that home isn’t static, and sometimes it doesn’t even come with an address. My mother would likely tell you home is where her family is. A friend of mine who has lived in an upwards of a dozen places throughout her childhood calls home where her dog and a good bed are situated. Another has expressed that home isn’t even so much as a circumstance, but simply a feeling of belonging or ownership.
The course of my life presently looks as though it will take a very different shape than I had imagined as a kid. I’d like to live in Amsterdam one day, and Galway, where some of my Irish family still resides. I hope to visit the volcanoes and glacial plains of Iceland, and to learn French. On this trajectory, it appears that I may find home over and over again while abroad- and I have my journeys thus far to thank for that.
Write Tribe has not received any remuneration for publishing this article.
“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” ― Maya Angelou
As you know already, you don’t have to blog on the prompt. You can add your post/s from this week too.