How Living Abroad Re-Shapes the Definition of Home

One of the most perplexing questions I’ve encountered as of late is “Where is home”? It’s a simple enough question and yet I often find myself puzzling over how to respond. Is home where you currently live and lay your head? Your country or city of origin? Maybe it’s a spiritual home, a place that you simply connect with on some profound yet inexplicable level. Perhaps it’s a mixture of places and spaces.

Photo: Celmatique

Photo: Celmatique

The concept of home has always been fluid for me. I grew up in the Bronx, NY and as a child I had the great fortune of living directly across the street from my grandparents’ house. Every day I’d wait patiently in my doorway for my grandfather to get home from work and scoop me up before heading across the street to his own house. I’d stay there, pestering my grandparents and aunts until I conked out for the night and someone would carry back across the street. When they retired to my grandfather’s hometown Charleston, SC when I was 5 years old, that became a second home for me. My brother and I spent countless summers exploring the land my grandfather grew up on. The whole family began the now time honored tradition of Christmas in Charleston. It was the site of my wedding in 2015, bringing together friends and family from all over the US and the world to celebrate. Charleston was geographically and culturally distinct from New York but it barely registered with me. Home was wherever my family was.

This definition was put to the test when I had my first encounter with Madrid. Although it was only a brief six week study abroad session, it was more than enough time for me to feel an affinity for this strange and wonderful city that gave me New York vibes with Spanish sensibilities. I was hooked, so much so that on the car ride home after my mother picked me up from the airport I announced that I could see myself living in Madrid one day. I felt a sadness and longing that I’d never encountered before, not even when I moved to Nashville, TN for college. Madrid was calling me.

Fast-forward to the present, where I am now celebrating my 5 year Spain anniversary. Despite my declaration to my mother that I’d live in Madrid one day, it still seems surreal at times that I moved alone to a different continent and have made a life for myself here. The beginning of my adult existence is firmly planted in Madrid; I work here, met my husband here, do all of the mundane tasks one does in their daily life. It was a hard pill to swallow for my family and friends who never thought I’d call anywhere but the US home. The family Christmas gatherings are a lot trickier to get to from across the Atlantic. When I visit New York, the city that raised me, I sometimes find it unfamiliar and I catch myself longing for my querido Madrid. Other times I find myself in Madrid dwelling on the idiosyncrasies of US living that I find myself missing after long stretches of time away.

So, how do I define home now? Yes, it’s where I lay my head at night, but it’s also the places that have helped shape my life. Home is where I feel my best self. And it’s cliché but home is where my heart is and thus my heart is divided into many pieces, allowing me to feel love and support from a variety of places. I’m a Southern-fried New Yorker gone Spanish and though it’s a mouthful to explain to new acquaintances, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

How has your definition of home changed throughout your travels?


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Christine is a native New Yorker who moved to Madrid, Spain in 2011 and hasn’t looked back since. She’s always on the hunt for something beautiful, whether she’s exploring Spain, country hopping or seeking the next culinary delight. Follow her adventures @xsteene88 on Instagram.