Since returning to Iowa, I have been pondering the concept of Home. What makes a Home? Is it where I am from? Where I feel connected? Can someone have multiple Homes?
“Where are you from?”
I have struggled with this question for a while. It is a simple, low-risk question in social settings, but I have observed that respondents frequently exhibit hesitation and give a long-winded explanation.
When I first moved to Iowa, I would give a long-winded answer that I am from Green Bay, WI but had really lived all over the central time zone. It seemed like a simpler way to explain my geographic identity. In college, I moved every year, if not every semester and never stuck around long enough to feel at home there. In graduate school, I lived in Lubbock, TX. While those were two influential years of my life, in no way do I or ever will I identify as a Texan.
In about 2014, I noticed a shift. I had been in Iowa for three years and stayed in the same apartment for two of those years. That was the longest I had lived anywhere since high school! I had developed a strong community, professional networks, and started thinking about other opportunities to stay here. It was then I started to explain that my Hometown is Green Bay but my Home is Iowa.
For me, Home and Hometown are different. As I have grown older and more removed from where I grew up, I do not feel as connected, and I definitely do not feel it is my Home. There are a few reasons.
- I do not know many people there anymore. Some of my family has moved away. My friends are all gone. Returning sparks nothing more than a distant familiarity.
- None of my adult life’s big events happened there. In the 12 years since I have lived in Green Bay I have graduated college (twice), met and married B, developed my career, started my family, and formed many wonderful friendships. All hours, even states, from Green Bay.
- Most individuals connect my hometown with the Green Bay Packers. Whenever I share my hometown with others, the conversation naturally drifts to football. Yes, I am a big fan, but it is not something that defines me.
In Atlanta, a piece of my identity was missing. I felt no sense of Home. I proudly told anyone I met that I was from Iowa but was raised in Green Bay. It was hard to find folks who understood what it meant to be an Iowan, even a Midwesterner. It was even harder for some folks to find Iowa on a map! This seemingly small annoyance is symbolic of my time there- feelings of disorientation, misunderstood, and isolation.
“Sense of Place”
Through a brief review of the research, it seems as though I am not the only one who struggles to answer, “Where are you from?”
Much of the research around Home calls this concept “sense of place”. It is a complex idea that has roots in history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and geography. Holistically, the research suggests place identity exists around one’s dwelling, community, and region. To one, sense of place may be sitting in the dining room of a childhood home. To another, it’s the community in which they reside and are involved. For another, it may be their identity as a Southerner in the United States- a region with strong cultural identity. Sense of place can exist in all three forms and to varying degrees within an individual.
According to Pew Research Center (Cohn & Morin, 2008): “Home means different things to different people…But there’s a wide range of definitions of ‘home’ among Americans who have lived in at least one place besides their original hometown: 26% say it’s where they were born or raised; 22% say it’s where they live now; 18% say it’s where they have lived the longest; 15% say it’s where their family comes from; and 4% say it’s where they went to high school.” I put myself in the “where they live now” category.
A Smithsonian article for 2012 (Klinkenborg, 2012) describes Home more psychologically: the “magnetic property of home”. From a psychological perspective, it is the idea that when we feel we are Home, everyone in our lives seems to come together in harmony. I couldn’t agree more. Here are some of my favorite characteristics of my Home.