I have always had great difficulties answering the question “Where are you from?” This seemingly innocuous question always throws me back a little because I don’t have a simple answer to give to that question without having to explain my whole life story including giving an impromptu geography lesson to the person asking the question. I was born and raised on Réunion Island, a place that most people on the planet have never heard about. Location: Indian Ocean. Tropic of Capricorn. Coordinates: 21.11 degree South Latitude. 55.53-degree East Longitude. Official language French & Creole. I am a French national married to an English man and I have spent the past 30 years living overseas (England, USA, New Zealand, South Korea.) I recently reentered my homeland to settle back on my island. Coming back to Réunion Island after so many years away has made me think about the concept of Home Sweet Home.
Home sweet home
Home is a fluid concept, and it means different things to different people. For a lot of people, home is strongly connected to one particular place where you operate within familiar landscapes, sounds, and smells, a common language, with family and friends around you. It is the place where things are predictable and secure. But home is more than your birthplace; home is the place where you feel comfortable as a family member, as a member of society, as a friend, it is the place where you feel that you belong, and where you feel involved with its surroundings.
My two daughters were a bit confused about this concept of home when they were younger. We were living in South Korea at that time making regular trips to England, Australia, and Reunion to visit family members during school vacation. I remember one particular conversation I had with my eldest daughter, Maya who was 9 or 10 at the time, “Mummy, where is home?”. I knew that she was getting a bit confused with this concept, so I thought carefully about the type of answer I should offer to her and said: “Home is where your family is”. She thought about this a little bit, and I knew when she smiled back, that I somehow managed to clear all the confusion that was running through her head with one simple sentence -“Home is where your family is”. From that day onwards, everything was clear for Maya, our immediate family was living in Korea, where both of her parents were working and where she and her youngest sister were going to school; so, Korea was home. We have family living in England, in Australia, and on Reunion Island, and traveling to those places to meet up with them took us to another one of our homes. All those places were also home to my daughters whenever we visited them.
Away from home
When I was a child, I dreamed of the day when I would leave my island which felt very small and very insular. I wanted to travel and see the world. Foreign lands like the USA and Europe had an iconic status to me. I wanted to go there and see for myself what it was like to live in those places.
I feel blessed that my studies, my career as a lawyer, and my husband helped make my dream of living and working in foreign lands a reality. I lived and worked in San Francisco (USA), London (UK), Auckland (New Zealand), and Seoul(South Korea.)
Living and working in those countries taught me a lot about the country itself but also about myself. I learned that I have a great capacity to adapt to changes, meet and connect with lots of different people, blend in and operate happily as a stranger in a strange land.
People develop a strong emotional attachment to the places they live because their physical surroundings play an important role in creating a sense of meaning and organization in their lives. The result is that the place where we live is closely tied to who we are as a person. Living in big cities such as San Francisco, London and Seoul fitted perfectly to who I was when I was a young lawyer working hard and trying to find her place in the working environment. Many years later, my aspirations are different. I aspire for peace and quiet, I want to live in a comfortable and close to nature kind of environment.
Life events have sent me back home on my island after 30 years of living overseas. I must be honest, I had mixed feelings about this return back home. I wasn’t sure if I could find my place among the locals after so many years away. I am happy to say that my return back home went really well, thanks to the amazing network of family and friends that I have retained here on the island. Managing to keep those connections alive over the years was so worth it. There is a special type of comfort in knowing that your friends and family are here for you, that they will back you up, cheer you up, understand you and take care of you. And it is comforting to know that whether you are near or far love will always hold you close.
After so many years spent overseas, I have learned that there is no such thing as the perfect place. The perfect place to live does not exist, there are advantages and disadvantages everywhere you go. There is always a mixed bag of good and bad. You have to make the most of what your current location is offering you, and you have to make do with the inconveniences and unpleasantness of things that irritate you with the place where you live.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust.
Island living has plenty of advantages. The beach is never far away, and the mountains are a drive away. Family and friends are plenty and as for opportunities, it is up to you to make them happen. I am having lots of fun re-discovery my island and looking at it with fresh eyes. I appreciate the beauty the island has to offer, its clean air, the amazing sceneries, and the people who inhabit it. When I wake up every morning I am trying to look at my new surroundings with fresh eyes and not through a veil of memory and assumptions.
People have a tendency to take people and places around them for granted. Familiarity makes us forget how blessed we are to be connected to this particular person or to be living in a particular environment. Once things become familiar to us, we no longer see them. We must become more intentional and see those things and those people with a pair of fresh eyes. It is easy for people to put a label on everything and everyone, based on some interactions that happened in the past. When we interact with someone, we should try to put a fresh eye on this particular interaction and resist the temptation to bring our past experience with that person as the only criteria to rely on, thinking that we already know what that person is all about. People changes, a good person can turn into a bad person and a bad person can turn into a good person at any given moment. Don’t make assumptions about people based on your past experience with them. Keep your interaction with them fresh.
Coming back home after many years overseas made me realize that home is where your friends and family are. Home is not a place, it is a feeling. Keep looking at life and people with a fresh pair of eyes.
And this, my dear friend, is your quest.
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