The Search for Home

Remote Year has taught me a mound of expected things (like how to work with my team from the other side of the world) and a mountain of unexpected ones. One thing that’s snuck up on me is a lesson in what is home, how do you find it and what you can do to craft it. I’m starting to see this year not only as a year of growth but a trial ground for finding out what I need to order to call a place home. It’s a time-boxed mission as every month the game board is wiped clean, and we begin again.

In Valencia, I found home in exactly 4.2 days despite dealing with a language barrier that left me staring blankly at people as I struggled to chase after the few words I knew that would suddenly vanish from my head. In Prague, the sense of home crept up on me about half way through the month. In Split, I’m not sure I ever found a home; it was too stark a contrast to the life I had been living, a shock to the system, some unknown dimension between work, vacation and memorizing a whole slew of names.

Now that I’m a week into my fourth city, I’ve started to notice a few recurring themes…at least for myself. Everyone is different. What I need is not necessarily what you will need.

For me, the key thing is the people. Remote Year makes waves in this category since I’m traveling with the same 52 people (53 if you’re counting me). It’s not all being at the workspace together or attending the same event that grounds me (although these things help), it’s the spontaneous interactions. The ones you can’t account for like turning a corner on your way to brunch and bumping into someone you know or walking by a window and having a friendly face wave at you.

Let me share with you one of my favorite interactions last month. It was the night I jogged to the beach and on my way back came across a free, open-air concert. I wanted to stay but was thirsty so I jumped in line at the concession stand to buy a bottle of water. As soon as I queued up, I felt a tap on my sweaty, exposed shoulder. I turned around, thinking maybe I had cut someone off in line. Instead, I saw a woman in her 40s with medium length brown hair and joyous brown eyes wearing a flowy off the shoulder top smiling at me. I recognized her instantly. I smiled back. Her smile grew larger (if that was even possible) as she raised a finger to point excitedly at me. I mirrored her as my brain scrambled to try and place her face. She spoke quickly to me in Spanish, the words unknown but the tone perfectly clear before gently touching my arm in farewell.

It’s hard to explain exactly why an interaction with a woman whom I still haven’t figured out where we would have met (but I KNOW without question that we had met) who doesn’t share a language with me could leave such an impact.

Perhaps it’s being in a place full of warm people. Perhaps recognizing and being recognized is something my heart needs to feel connected to a place. Perhaps it’s something I’ll never have words for.

The next recurring theme has been the food. Whether or not you think it’s weird, I’ll loudly proclaim that I love salads and eating raw food (of the fruit and vegetable variety). In Croatia, pizza and pasta made up 95% of the food options. These tasty these dishes are not something I care to eat EVERY SINGLE DAY. Being able to find food that both taste good and make me feel good affects how comfortable I am with a place. I always knew food was important to me, but this has taken it to a new level.

The final theme that’s bubbled up is my access to nature. In Split, there were mountains within sight. Looking at them made me happy, but I only made to them once. The day Josh and I went hiking was the day I felt most grounded, most at home. In Prague, there were lots of green places but I never really felt like I was able to escape the city. In Spain, the river park and the beach did wonders for me. I jogged or walked through the park nearly every other day. Even though the breeze didn’t always reach down there, it continued to feel like a breath of fresh air. Now I’m in Sofia, and I can see the mountains as I twist and turn through the streets. I’ve already been in the mountains twice, and each time it’s felt like “coming home.” I’m already planning my next escape for this weekend.

I didn’t know what to expect when I left for Remote Year. Would I find a home in each city? In several? In one? As I continue to move from one city to another I can see there are patterns and although I think it’s something you feel rather than something you can quantify I can try. People. Food. Nature. That’s what it comes down to for me, or so it would seem thus far on my journey.