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When Do We Feel at Home in a Foreign Land?

Airport

I was asked recently to comment for an article about the point at which we feel at home when travelling to a foreign country. When have we acclimated to the culture, language and place enough so that we feel the place is now our home? Here are the comments I gave the reporter.

 I understand that your emphasis is on feeling at home in another location other than where you normally live. Others can speak to the time when we feel comfortable with the place, language, and culture. What I would suggest is that the place we reside has much to do with attaining that feeling of “home.”

 First and foremost, home is our secure place. There needs to be an overall feeling of protection and psychological safety. Home is the place we retreat to from the stress and difficulties of the world. Our homes need to express this in a physical way. Think of your own home and think of where you sit when you want to relax, read a book, or watch television. This is your “nest.” It’s the place where your blood pressure goes down and you could easily nod off and take a nap. When we travel, we don’t have this comforting place. However, if we are in a foreign place for extended periods, we can create it.

 A “home” place needs to be the right scale. It needs to have furniture that fits us and feels right to sit in. It needs to reflect what we like about ourselves. Our home needs to express something about ourselves and our lives. We do this by filling it with things we like. Items rich with nostalgia, like family photos and souvenirs from happy times, are important. Even buying local items that catch our eye can help achieve the feeling of home. Travel accommodations are impersonal and can not fulfill the psychological needs of home. Everything in a hotel room or rented apartment or house is either impersonal or personal to someone else. The space was created by someone else and we had nothing to do with it so it is impersonal to us. It helps to spread some of “you” around to personalize the space. Once you find yourself feeling like the place you are staying is your home, the town or country you are in will feel more like home. You’ll be able to venture out into the unfamiliar world, interact with the unfamiliar culture and society, but then retreat to your safe and “homey” personal environment. You will feel at home.

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Bill Hirsch

Bill Hirsch

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