Home – with or without an Uppercase – Where is Home?

16 Feb

I know, “Home” is a strange topic for a blog on eating your way through the world. I was… shall we say pushed by my friend Emily. If you don’t believe me, read her blog entry entitled My Identity Crisis. I was innocently leaving a comment and she challenged me to explore the topic on my blog, which is always in need of fresh material.

I was telling her that it was good to have an identity crisis and ask yourself questions. She was born and raised in America but her parents returned to their native China a few years ago. After graduation in 2011, she decided to join them in Beijing and research her roots, hence her blog title Grounding My Roots.  This exploration has led to an identity crisis in particular because of the way people see her: not quite American in the US, not quite Chinese in China. I am not too worried though, because you can tell from the last lines of her entry that soon enough not only will she have a ready answer but she won’t even care about the question.

Let me quote her:

In these past few weeks, I’ve more or less come to terms with my exhausting identity crisis, perhaps a first step in “finding myself.” From now on I should just consider myself a unique individual. Maybe that’s the answer I’ll give the next time someone asks me, “So what are you? I mean, where do you come from?”

“I am a unique individual. I come from nowhere in particular. And yourself?”


Where Is Home?

In my comment I went on to talk about THE annoying question I was getting (beyond the usual “Where do you come from?” or worse “Oh you are French!”). I have been struggling with the notion of “home” – on and off, it’s not keeping me up at night.

I feel at home wherever I have a bed, and it doesn’t even have to be that comfortable. I was happy hopping from one backpacker hostel to another for three months last winter in New Zealand.

I was between home for four months last year, after my contract and visa in Vanuatu expired. What to answer people asking me where home was? Worse, how to fill immigration forms asking for my country of residency.  One form wanted to know the last place where I had spent at least 12 months… I had to write down the US even if I hadn’t been there in over a year. Life as a nomad.

Lamboing Switzerland

I have a homeland: Switzerland — which I left in ’98 and haven’t returned to since ’06.

I also have a heartland: Ireland — where I have been going almost every year since ’94, mostly to recharge my love battery in my aunt’s welcoming embrace.

I had a home ‘Home’ for 12 years: the US – but I left in August 2010 and even if I am slowly distancing myself from my life there, I still feel like rushing to every American and ask them about home. I read US news on Google every day. I follow TV shows on-line (excruciating with this slow connection). I have Skype dates with my friends there.

Vanuatu was my home in 2010-2011 but I knew it was only for eight months and never really made an effort to plant roots. I did enjoy my life there, as you can read from my earlier blog entries, in particular diving in Port Vila’s and Luganville’s turquoise waters.

I felt at home in Sydney in July. It was so great to be in a big city with cinemas, chocolate shops and delicious international foods. I had a lovely studio in a building that had a pool and close to Hyde Park. But I had to do my laundry and house chores… after being spoiled in Vanuatu by cleaning ladies.

New Zealand was an experiment. I had never backpacked anywhere. Yes, I had stayed in hostels for a night here and there in transit, but crisscrossing a country for three months was new. I was a bit worried about how my homebody self would handle it, but the adventurous side of me made sure that I would take breaks. I treated myself to a bed-and-breakfast three times, and stayed ten days in Te Anau’s YHA to recover from a persistent cold. I was actually sad to leave in November but happy that I had gotten a new contract in Vanuatu.

Once again I know what to put under Country of Residency on those pesky immigration forms. I know what to answer when people ask me where home is. Even if afterwards I have to start a geography lesson. See Australia? See New Zealand? See Fiji? Well, smack in the middle in the Archipelago of Vanuatu. What is an archipelago? Does it say Wikipedia on my forehead?

If people ask where I am from, I feel like a fraud answering Switzerland because I haven’t set foot there in six years. I am still carrying a red passport and I just got my material to vote in March. I like to listen to Option Musique (www.rsr.ch) and get news, weather and traffic on the hour (no ads!!). I can’t help but smile when I hear that the thermometer is climbing to one degree Celsius!

Semuc Champey - Guatemala July 2009: pools of fresh turquoise water.

Emily feels that even if she enjoys her life in China. She calls Brooklyn home: “I honestly feel like that’s where I will end up one day because I absolutely loved living there. I felt so at ‘home’ for the first time in a long time.”

Now you may wonder where I met Emily. Well, we shared a home in Antigua, Guatemala in July-August 2009. We went to the same school, and bonded over street food. I dragged her into my chocolate adventures and she got me into a trip of a lifetime in Semuc Champey.


Truly though, I get the feeling of home when I stay at my aunt’s in Ireland. My aunt and her partner told me a few years ago that I had a Home where I was welcomed anytime. At the time, I was living in the US and happy with my little studio, but since I have realized how important it was to have a place where people love and welcome you. I took refuge there twice since, and abused their hospitality until I could fly again. This past Christmas, I just needed to be surrounded by family and friends and found it where I knew I would. I spent a lovely month there.

I don’t follow Irish news closely. I don’t recognize any of their celebrities. I can’t tell their accent apart. I did support the Shamrocks during the Rugby World Cup. And when I meet an Irish lad or gal, I always ask them whether they know Cliffoney in County Sligo, just between Grange and Bundoran, next to Mullaghmore where Lord Mountbatten was assassinated. It’s a tiny village no one has heard about.

I was happy to have neighbours from Belfast in Port Vila, who actually knew where Cliffoney was – approximately! But they have just left so I’ll have to visit them next time I go to the heartland.

In my next blog, I should talk about roots. Where have I put mine?!

Thank you, Emily, for making me think and write about such personal topics when, really, my mind is in my stomach most of the time! Besos.

Emily, Guatemala, July 2009


6 Responses to “Home – with or without an Uppercase – Where is Home?”

  1. Emily He 15 J0000002Australia/Sydney 2011 at 10:26 pm #

    SEE JANIQUE! THAT WAS A FANTASTIC POST! Oh man I’m such a good influence, and I’m glad you posted a photo of me that I approve of because I was more in shape then than I’ve been in a long time. And thanks for linking back to my blog 🙂

    Even though your mind is in your stomach, I think your concept of home explains very well your reason for traveling and tasting all the goodies all over the globe. I know I say I am “a unique individual,” but you, Janique, truly are a unique individual. I know that everybody is unique, but you are unique to ME in that you have actually LIVED and not just TRAVELED in more places than anybody I know personally! I admire your ability to call so many places home.

    From now on whenever I refer to a “Global Citizen” your face with a piece of chocolate smeared on your front tooth will appear in my mind!

    Anywho, BRAVO! WELL DONE on a wonderful post 🙂 Can’t wait to hear about your “roots”!

    • janiqueracine 15 J0000002Australia/Sydney 2011 at 3:01 pm #

      Hihihi! Thank you, Emily — for the compliments and being a good influence. I am glad that you approve of the photo, and I would have changed it in a heartbeat if you had wanted another one, but that’s how I remember you!
      Home, Roots… you have opened a whole new range of topics. 🙂

  2. Barbara Barclay 15 J0000002Australia/Sydney 2011 at 4:28 am #

    I think all expats can relate to your post. As you know, I’m Aussie through and through, even though I haven’t lived there since 1996.

    My life is in Ireland, my children are in Ireland, I know more about Irish current affairs now than I do about Australian ones (though I read the Sydney Morning Herald almost daily to try and keep up!).

    But Australia will always be my Home (definitely uppercase there).

    I had to laugh though about what you said about when you were in New Zealand, you were worried about your “homebody self”… did you intend the irony? 🙂

    Love reading your posts though I don’t usually comment. Keep it up, xx

    PS Also love your description of Ireland as “Heartland”. We’re heading to Heartland this weekend 🙂

    • janiqueracine 15 J0000002Australia/Sydney 2011 at 3:49 pm #

      Yes, so many of my friends are expats (esp. from the Washington days) and we all go through similar feelings about home. In some ways I became much more patriotic after living abroad. I came to appreciate the things that any Swiss would take for granted.

      The thing is though, I never felt I was a real Swiss, typical, through and through, etc. I didn’t fit in but I wasn’t unhappy about it. I had my own way and could adapt to the Swiss ways, knowing that I wanted to travel far and wide. However, after spending less than a year abroad, I knew that I wouldn’t go back, to live and now even visiting feels pointless.

      Yes, I have always been a homebody 🙂 and I don’t understand where the travel bug comes from. Where did I get that adventurous side that makes me cross bridges even though I am afraid of heights?! As I was organising my trip to NZ, half of me was calling the other Crazy — uppercase C. My body, mind and soul are supposed to stay home… yet I have proven to myself last year that I could leave without a home. Exploring new territories… inner territories.

      Enjoy the heartland!

  3. Joshua 15 J0000002Australia/Sydney 2011 at 1:46 am #

    On the contrary, I would argue that “home” is a very appropriate topic for a blog on “tastebuds” (and you can’t deny to be a fanatic Swiss in that respect!). Our “home”, our identity, can’t be reduced to a single dimension (eg the passport’s color), just like a culinary specialty cannot be described by a single ingredient. We’re better defined by the small trace of spice in us than the main ingredient. Only tasteless people would appreciate single-ingredient dishes. It’s about time that we change the identity question to “What are your spices?” 😉

    • janiqueracine 15 J0000002Australia/Sydney 2011 at 10:18 am #

      Well said, Joshua. I agree with you and like that spices change with time and even space (I am not quite the same as I was in DC). I’ll try asking people what their spices are and see if I can start a new trend. Tanti baci.

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