Home is everywhere; home is nowhere

Today’s featured image: Sunset over Copenhagen from Malmö.

There is a palpable, if ineffable, sensation that strikes when coming home. It’s in the way the scenery flows by from a vehicle, the familiar shapes and shadows of a home, and the unique scent of walking in the front door. It strikes immediately, deeply, and unavoidably.

It has been almost 10 months since I departed my first long-term home in Sweden, but yesterday I returned. The view from the train as I crossed the Swedish countryside elicited a feeling of comfort in the familiarity. The seven-week stay in Norway was not enough to instill this feeling for the distinct western half of the Scandinavian peninsula. Riding back to Flogsta, where I sincerely felt at home for the duration of last August, brought me right back to the mechanical motions of navigating the maze of trails that criss-cross Uppsala. When I stepped inside of the small apartment where I had started to build routines, I unconsciously stated in a dreamy tone, “Smells like home.”

I know that Sweden is not a permanent home. Next weekend, I will pass back through Sweden with no plans to return. This country has, however, played a generous and welcoming host, and I look forward to the day that plans for my return do materialize.

Last week, I realized that I have now been abroad for the longest stretch yet. It has gotten to the point that it just feels normal. As excited as I am to see my family, my friends, and Fort Collins again, I know there will be some readjusting.

The differences are subtle but they’re real, and they add up. From the change from cooking on the almost ubiquitous induction stoves in Sweden to the fact that almost everyone around me will be speaking my native language in a dialect that is almost annoyingly understandable, the adjustment will take time.

I still have about 10 weeks until I see Fort Collins again, but I’m already thinking about my reintegration. It was difficult last time. Coming back from eight months in East Asia and six weeks in Europe, I wasn’t ready for a reintroduction to American culture. Nothing had changed back home, and that was probably the hardest part. Everything was exactly the same, but I had changed. I had become a professional in a career unlike anything I had ever done. I had started to learn a new language and communicated daily in conversations in which either I, my counterpart, or both of us needed to speak in a second (or third, or fourth) language. I had learned myriad new customs and bits of etiquette significantly different from the ones I had grown up with, and I had developed a sensitivity to them from consistently embarrassing myself through my ignorance of them. The most mundane and banal bits of American and even Coloradan culture that I had overlooked for years suddenly stood out and became foundational aspects of an ethnographic analysis of the people whom I grew up with.

The feeling of familiarity in coming home at the end of 2015 was wonderful, but it was also unnerving. I had left that land behind, and by the time I returned, I had become a stranger, a visitor. As a friend once told me, once you’ve lived abroad, nowhere is really home again.

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