The Meaning of Home–The Travelers at MOCA NYC

What does home mean to you? As the old saying says, is it where the “heart” is? What about where you grew up?

This is a question that often vexes me. Sure, the above are the easy answers, but none of them fit all that well into my upbringing. Growing up, I never spent more than 6 years in any city. And no more than 4 years in any one house. By the time I finished college, I had lived in 16 different houses in 8 cities on 3 continents.

The Travelers

9 months ago, I sat d0wn to lunch with Somewhere There is Jeannie, another NYC-based travel blogger who was there, not only meet me for the first time, but to hand me a book. But this was no novel or even anything you could read. It was shaped like a rectangle, with a colorful cover and dozens upon dozens of blank pages. The book came with a question that demanded an answer:

“Write a personal story about leaving home at some point in your life.”

Who would ask such a question? An artist. Lee Mingwei, to be exact. This book was one of 100 that was to be part of an exhibit called “The Travelers,” currently on display at New York City’s Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) through March 26, 2012. Before arriving at the museum for the exhibition, each book underwent a journey around the world, passed along from one individual to the other. The chance to partake in this exhibit? Where do I sign up??

Photo Credit

My Meaning of Home

I thought long and hard about my contribution here. I mean, how could I write about leaving home if I didn’t know what home meant to me? So I started to write. The end result was a very different version of home. I’d love to share my piece with you below.

“I had an unusual upbringing. By the time I was 12, I had lived in 5 cities on 2 continents, so the only consistent “home” in my life was where my family was. Having moved away for college at 18, I never once looked back as I trudged into the unknowns of life.

But all that changed when I took up a study abroad opportunity that my university was offering in Thailand. This was not my first time abroad by any scope of the imagination, but it was my first time going solo. And I found myself to be absolutely terrified of the experience.

After arriving in Bangkok, where I stayed with a friend of a friend, I was to set off on my own for my very first backpacking adventure in Laos, which, at the time, wasn’t nearly the tourist hotspot that it is today. Even having spent a night in Thailand, I fretted about my imminent departure.

It wasn’t until I arrived in the northern Thai city of Chiang Rai and made my way to the bus terminal where almost nobody spoke English that I immediately felt at home in these surroundings that were completely new and unknown to me!

And right then and there, I realized something about myself. Home, for me, can literally be wherever I want it to be. My only stipulation is that I have to keep exploring and discovering anew. This could be my own, very large backyard (New York City) or somewhere in rural Bhutan!

“Leaving home” for me is when I fall into a routine. When I stop seeing things with the same childlike wonderment with which you experience things when you travel. This is not something I want to experience.

Now, when I set off into the unknown of a new place, I get incredibly excited because I know that I am going home!”

If you’re going to be in New York City, be sure to check out Lee Mingwei’s “The Travelers,” through March 26, 2012 at the Museum of Chinese in America (215 Centre Street).

Now, I’m curious. What does home mean to you? 


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18 Responses to The Meaning of Home–The Travelers at MOCA NYC

  1. Jim ODonnell October 31, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

    I had a very different upbringing. I was raised in the same house my whole life. My mom still lives there. I am 4th generation in that town. Graduated HS with the same pple I went to pre-school with. I’ve always had a “fiddle foot” as my grandpa used to say and I’m addicted to travel. But I’m not a nomad. I like having a home and a community to go from and come back to. Funny. I still consider my home town home after 25 years away, over 40 countries visited and having lived abroad for 7 years. Home is home. You know it when you’re there.

    • Aaron October 31, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

      You’re absolutely right Jim. Even now, when people ask me where I’m from, I tell them Las Vegas. It’s where I became a teenager and graduated high school from. My parents still live there in the same house. It also happens to be the place where I spent the most years of my life thus far.

      To go with your analogy, I often find that, as much as I love to complain about NYC and as much as I like to get away, it always feels good to return there. Maybe that’s the meaning of home. Even if it has just been 4 years and three apartments…

      • Jim O'Donnell November 2, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

        Thats just it. It may be where you feel most comfortable. For many people being on the road is most comfortable. For alot of us….me….that childhood home is a home we know we’ll never return to and “home” as an adult is something yet to find.

        • Aaron November 2, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

          So what does your adult home become once the home you mentioned is no longer in your life?

  2. jeannie November 1, 2011 at 12:13 am #

    i admire your definition of home, and what it means to leave it. Most people think of home as a place to be grounded or return to, and it’s not always necessarily your own home. Or sometimes it may take a long time before someone finds their “home” and perhaps some place far away.

    Thanks for your contribution and for posting your story!!

    • Aaron November 1, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

      I’m glad you enjoyed my interpretation Jeannie! And thank you for turning me onto this project!

  3. Amanda November 1, 2011 at 11:50 pm #

    I’ve often pondered this question, too. “Home” can mean many different things to different people — especially when travelers are involved! “Home” to me is where my family is, and where I have made memories and feel comfortable.

    • Aaron November 2, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

      Of course. But what happens when that place is no longer in your life? If you move, or if your family does?

  4. Maria November 2, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    As I recently read in a post at Hectic Travels – and loosely quote here… home is where my devices recharge.

    • Jim O'Donnell November 2, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

      Ha!! Thats great!

    • Aaron November 2, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

      Love it!

  5. Gillian @OneGiantStep November 2, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    Home is where ever I am right now. Right now it’s Calgary, when on the road it’s the hostel/hotel we’re staying in. I consciously do not refer to my childhood town as ‘home’ but as ‘where my parents live’ or ‘where I grew up’. I think it’s b/c ‘home’ is where we seek comfort and I want to choose to be comfortable where I am right now.

    • Aaron November 4, 2011 at 1:19 am #

      I like your interpretation Gillian! But do you feel anything towards returning to Calgary?

  6. Rease November 3, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    I really like your answer. I wish I could go to the event!

    This might sound generic, but home for me is where my friends are. I realized this after over a year living as an expat in Buenos Aires. I feel at home in Buenos Aires in many ways, but after a trip back to the US, I knew that was where I would always feel at home. It doesn´t mean I want to always be in the US or that I don´t like Buenos Aires life. What it means is I ALWAYS want to go back there and I will always cry when I leave. There are just so many important people there who love and support me. Of course, not in one city. I am at home with my friends, wherever they are!

    • Aaron November 4, 2011 at 1:29 am #

      Well said Rease. That’s a great philosophy! The closest thing I’d term to a traditional home “home” is where my family is, but friends are certainly creeping up there in priorities as I get older. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  7. Charu November 6, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    Aaron, very nice essay and congrats for contributing to this project. I actually wrote a post once on my blog called “Sometimes there’s no place like home” and it was the first time that I felt that after all the wandering, I could come back to a “home.” I’ve lived in so many countries, a bit like you. Born in India, I left to live in Africa when I was five years old, then back to India, then I came to the US for undergrad, spent two summers in Greece and Rome, then lived in London for 1.5 years as a banker. So many changes. But still “home” for me will always be where my parents live. I feel so comfortable returning. Childhood memories I think are the most powerful,

    • Aaron November 8, 2011 at 1:19 am #

      Wow Charu, I had no idea your life had been so interesting! Home for me is also sort of where my parents are, though they still live in the same house I graduated from High School in, so it’s a place that holds a lot of memories for me. That said, I’ve let go of many other places that held memories for me given my transient lifestyle so that may happen again when they eventually move…who knows?

      I’ve been out of NYC for a month and when I landed back here today, one thought came into my head…it’s nice to be home! I think that’s to say that there are different variations of home in my life. At least here is where my friends are. And, perhaps more importantly, my stuff!


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