Thursday, 17 September 2009

The summer of 2009 (II): Coming home

"Why are you going out?"
"To find my way home."

- Meister Eckhart

In recent years, several of my friends have graduated from university. They have found their first 'real' job - not the One they will keep for the rest of their lives, perhaps, but at least a nice job with real responsibilities and a decent salary, that will keep them busy for the next couple of years - or, if they haven't found it yet, they are seriously looking for it. Most of them have got their own small apartment, so they no longer have to cope with their former flatmates' dirty dishes. The existential doubts regarding their future, so omnipresent while they were in the last stage of their studies (i.e., just one or two years ago), are gradually giving way to feelings of security and stability. They seem to have found their Home - or, at least, they are in the process of finding it.

I can't deny I envy them, even though I am well aware of the fact that some of them probably envy me, too. The grass is always greener on the other side. I envy them for having a proper house, a stable job and, most of all, an income of which I, at the moment, can only dream. On the other hand, I am happy I don't work five days a week for company X or bank Y, while living in a small 3rd floor apartment of a grey neighbourhood in city Z somewhere in the Randstad. They, on their part, envy me for travelling around the world, for living in a cheap country, and for being surrounded by beautiful landscapes and tropical beaches. On the other hand, they probably wouldn't want to live the uncertain and nomadic life that I live - no labour contract, no fixed home, no regular income, and recurring stress over visa extensions.

In all honesty, I do want to settle down and find a home, just like them. I just don't want to do it until I have finally found that perfect PhD position, and know where I will spend the next, say, five years of my life. I don't think I am able to settle down somewhere if I know I will probably have to leave the place within one year, or even less. I made that mistake once, I'm not going to make it again. As a consequence, I keep on moving from one place to the other. During the past year and a half, I have been to fifteen different countries. Until I have found my destination, I keep on wandering, restlessly, wondering when and where (and if) I will reach that destination.

I wrote about the topic of 'Home' before. Home is more than just a place to sleep and eat and hide, I argued: it's a metaphysical category, it's about feeling safe, it's about having a sense of belonging. In other words, the concept of 'Home' refers to more than just a physical location - it also refers to a particular state of being. The longing for home is a longing for emotional and spiritual wellbeing and a sense of security, that is usually projected onto a particular location, while simulatenously transcending it. That this longing can be a powerful motivation for our choices and actions is well exemplified by history and literature - famous examples include Exodus, The Odyssee, The Wizard of Oz, or the history of modern Zionism.

In a way, since I left the house and village where I grew up, I have always been looking for my own home. During the past eight years, I have lived in nine different places in four different countries, without finding that one place. I am not complaining: I am very grateful for all the wonderful experiences I have got. But somehow I do have the feeling that it's about time I find this particular place that deserves to be called home.

Of course, I am not really homeless. Apart from the fact that wherever I am, I somehow always manage to find a place to live, I do have a real home - a place where I can return to anytime, where I can stay as long as I want, and where I feel safe. It's the place where I spent fifteen years of my life; the place where I grew up. I don't think I really recognised the importance of that place until recently. I used to be quite dismissive about it, saying "that's not my home anymore, it's not a place where I can live for a long period of time, it's theirs, not mine". This may be perfectly normal - just like many other young people, I somehow wanted to dissociate myself from the world of my childhood, and the world of my parents. Sure, I didn't mind visiting them every once in a while, but I certainly did not consider their place my home.

That seems to have changed, however. It may be due to the fact that I have been living in foreign countries for most of the past two years, it may be because I don't feel the need anymore to prove that I can live independently, it may simply be part of growing up - but the old home doesn't feel as strange and distant as it used to feel. The urge to get away as far as possible seems to have disappeared. It is highly unlikely, given the lack of career opportunities, but the thought of settling down somewhere in or near Groningen suddenly seems quite tempting. A few years ago, I would have considered this unimaginable, so something has changed indeed. Paradoxically, now that I live in faraway Vietnam, I no longer feel ambivalent about the place where I grew up. I have finally come to appreciate it.

So when I visited the village of Den Horn this summer, I was pleasantly surprised by its beauty. Had I really never noticed the beauty of my parents' garden, and the surrounding countryside? Or had I forgotten what it was like? One might expect that after eight months in Southeast Asia, during which I saw majestic mountains, waving rice paddies and perfect beaches, I wouldn't be impressed by rural Groningen. The contrary was the case. I was impressed by the sight of tiny flowers at the side of the road, a blue canal crossing the green fields, white cotton clouds in the intense blue sky, farms scattered around, and trees full of pears or plumbs. Their simple beauty struck me, as it never had before. It wasn't nostalgia, for sure - it was an unexpected discovery, a brand new experience.

I had come home from faraway foreign countries before, but never had I had this experience. How come I had it this time? Have I changed? Is my unprecedented appreciation of my home country due to my growing desire to finally find my own Home somewhere? Or was there another factor involved - the presence of a young lady, who had never been to Europe before, and who enjoyed the beauty of the landscape and the flowers and trees more than I could ever have imagined - thus opening my eyes, too...?

Who knows. In any case, here are a few pictures of Den Horn, the surrounding countryside, and the city of Groningen, just to give you an impression of the place. This is where I'm from - and I'm proud of it.


  1. :) I know the feeling


  2. If I had the chance to swop my 3rd room appartment for your mother's garden, I'd do so in the blink of an eye ;)

  3. I know the feeling. I have been away for 8 years, and for the first time I long for a home. I have a nice, large furnitured apartment that is however not home. My mother is in a nursing home, my family and friends scattered all over the world. And now I definitely have the feeling that I miss something.