My Second Home

When people find out I lived in three different countries and traveled to multiple other countries, they often ask me which place is my favorite. After answering this question multiple times in the past year, I finally came up with a standard answer, “Scotland is my favorite place to visit, but Portugal is my second home.”

Second home.

Using this phrase bothered me when I began my overseas journey. Calling a place home was a milestone in each cultural adjustment. At times I fought the urge to call a new place home because I didn’t want to forget my US home. I didn’t want to diminish my parents’ house and my hometown in my mind. Wasn’t home supposed to only be one place? For the majority of my life it had been, but as an adult home changed every few years. A basement apartment on the side of a hill in Portugal, a detached bungalow with monkeys and storks outside my door, a fifth floor apartment on a busy street, a flat overlooking an Irish harbor – I’ve called all of these home at some point in the past ten years.

In order for these places to feel like my home, I decorated rooms and hosted people for meals. I lived everyday life in these spaces. However, calling them home happened gradually, often at the end of a long trip involving airports and sightseeing and hotel stays. Arriving at a now familiar airport, being greeted by friends, unpacking in my own room, and returning to my regular schedule provided the deepest sense of home. Home was a place of order and calm, of peace and rest. No matter the physical address.

But calling a place my second home meant the feelings reached far deeper than routine and familiarity. Portugal became my second home because of people. People who opened their homes to me for meals. People who opened their classroom doors and offices to me for conversations. People who said, “Yes, you can come serve here again, even though you are broken.” People who prayed and prayed for me to heal. People who laughed and cried with me. People who showed me how to get to the shopping mall and conquer the grocery store. People who climbed castle ruins and wandered cobblestone streets with me. People who sat next to me in church. People who were safe and loving. Three and a half years of serving alongside people who became like family to me allowed me to embrace Portugal as my second home.

When I left Portugal, I knew I was supposed to leave; I also knew I would be returning to Europe. My second home would only be a short flight away. Five months after I arrived in Ireland, I returned to Lisbon for a week. My week was filled with lunch dates and coffee dates – people, people and more people. I didn’t have to think for long about how to find the shopping mall or even how to order Starbucks in Portuguese. Life in my second home remained comfortable and familiar. Transitioning to Ireland had been difficult, and being surrounded by safe people for a week restored my heart and replenished my emotional reserves. The blessing of embracing more than one place as home was evident in my countenance as I boarded my flight back to Ireland.

Establishing a home away from home came gradually. I learned to acknowledge the moments when a new place felt like home – driving to church without thinking about when and where to turn, paying rent without worrying about doing it correctly, sitting at a café and feeling a sense of belonging. As I recognized these moments, my ability to refer to a new place as home increased. Second, third or fourth homes are blessings. These homes are tangible reminders we love people all over the world, we have put down roots in a new culture, and we don’t call this world our permanent home.

What has helped you create a second home, a home away from home? I’d love to hear your stories and tips in the comments.

24 Comments

  1. Michele Call January 17, 2016

    We have moved so many times that I  have somewhat of a routine for settling in. Outside the home finding a doctor, the local stores and parks and a few friends get me settled. Inside the home making the kitchen an efficient place rates high on my list, followed by making sure the rest of the house is efficiently organized-I hate the feeling of things getting lost a lot, or needing to walk to one end of the house for shoes and another end for jackets. I’m sure the fact that I also have a lot of children motivates this, as well as the fact that the hardest part of moving for me is the feeling that it wastes so much time in packing, unpacking and learning to do life. In moving around in Latin America it took some time for me to feel at home in houses with all tile floors, but I  have come to prefer it, even though it doesn’t seem as homey. I love the idea of having a second home. I tend to think of myself as not having anywhere that feels like home, but another way to see it is that I have many places that feel like home–since I  do have places where I have good memories and friends and places around town that are familiar. I’ve been in my current home for just over a year and I feel inspired to think of all the ways this feels home, rather than focusing on the challenges. Thanks.

    1. Laura January 18, 2016

      Michelle, thanks for sharing what you do to make a new place feel like home! I love what you said about having many places that feel like home; what a great perspective!

  2. Susan January 17, 2016

    Laura, thanks for your musings on “home.”  I have been thinking about that word as I make another transition.  I’ve decided that one never looses a “home” but one can gain many!  Currently I count Grand Rapids, Philadelphia and Hanoi all “home”  – well, let me write that as HOME!  That place where you have spaces, places and people that enfold and nurture you.

    1. Laura January 18, 2016

      Susan, you’re welcome. And, yes, “people that enfold and nurture you.” Love that!

  3. Michele Zintz January 18, 2016

    This is timely for me as I return to my ‘second home’ for the first time in three years.  I lived in Semarang from 1997 to 2007 minus a one year furlough in the middle.  I’ve lived in two countries since with a lot of other travel in between.  Your description is perfect- the relationships that run deep, shared life are what make it ‘home.’  I always feel so relaxed when the plane lands there- more so than when it lands in Chicago, honestly.  The past three years I’ve been working hard to make Kathmandu home, and it’s really starting to happen.  I think that’s made me a bit nervous about this trip back… Will it still feel like home or will I end up in the same counter-culture shock I’ve had in America?

    There’s something special about having to WORK at it- the effort it takes to let go of your own culture and comforts, and then slowly find you actually can like it another way (like tile floors in Michelle’s comment above).  Somehow the investment makes it more precious.  So, to answer the question, I guess the two keys for me are:  letting go of the last place (and the place before that) and learning life according the new culture in as many ways as possible; and developing strong relationships- the kind where you actually share life day to day and they see your ugly side and you see theirs, and you keep loving each other.

    1. Laura January 18, 2016

      Michelle, thank you for sharing your thoughts about making a new place home. I love what you said about working at it and about letting go of the last place you were. I know I didn’t do well with those when I moved to Ireland, and it impacted my adjustment.

  4. Julie in Germany January 18, 2016

    Thanks for this, Laura! I noticed that Germany started to feel like “home” once the people, places and routines felt familiar. However, it is mostly the people that make a place feel like home!

    1. Laura January 18, 2016

      Julie, you’re welcome.

  5. Grace L January 18, 2016

    In 2006 we sold our house in the states and moved to a rural part of China and have lived in the same house here ever since (which we bought in 2004). It took a few years but soon this place became home to us. Adopting a dog in 2010 also really helped, and equipping our kitchen so we can really enjoy cooking has also helped. My husband and I were married for only 5 years before we moved to China so we don’t have strong ties to the house we lived in there in the states. When we leave here to visit the US, it is definitely like leaving home to go visit. And we are always so happy to come “home” to our house here in China.

    However, over the years with traveling up and down the east coast, we have many homes away from homes. When we arrive someplace to stay for a week, it feels like coming home and we enjoy being a part of their family for a brief time. I have come to believe that what Jesus said in Mark 10:29 that “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields…)” As much as it is unsettling to have to travel from place to place when we visit the states, we do enjoy being in our many “homes” there and with the loving sisters and brothers who open up their homes to us.

    1. brittnee January 18, 2016

      Amen! I love to lean on that verse. And so happy you brought it up as well as enjoy the truth of it.

    2. Laura January 18, 2016

      Grace, thank you for sharing! I love what you said about the people who have opened their homes to you during your travels; what a great perspective!

  6. brittnee January 18, 2016

    This is my second year and SE Asia and also my second city.  When I first moved to my new city, I feared it would be too much transition and it would feel even less like home than my last city, but it hasn’t!

    Almost immediately, (to borrow Susan’s language) people began to enfold and nurture me. They made me feel welcomed even though I’m the only one who looks and acts and sounds like me. I could see the Father Himeself creating a space and a place for me here through the people. Somehow I can say that I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else, despite have dearly loved ones in two states in the U.S.

    1. Laura January 18, 2016

      Brittnee, thanks for sharing how the Father is making this new city a second home for you! What a blessing to read how He has worked in this part of your transition. 🙂

  7. Lisa January 18, 2016

    “Home” is a major issue for us, as we’re five months into an overseas transition after having lived in the same house for ten years. Our four kids have never known anything other than the home we came from. I hadn’t realized how rooted we were until we transplanted all of that. So I appreciate hearing perspective from somebody who has lived the itinerant life longer than we have. For us, I think setting up house, developing traditions and routines (very simple things like what we do after dinner etc.) and putting pictures on the wall have all been very important parts of the process. I’ve had to think about what’s important to the kids to make a place feel like home – it isn’t exactly the same for them. They all felt a lot better once I’d put up their display shelves with their special treasures and awards and pictures, even though that hadn’t been a high priority for me (oops). I’m interested to hear what everyone says about people making the home. Our community here is very transient – we’ve already said goodbye to some friends we made last semester, and we’re making new friends now that will be gone in May. I agree that people make the home, but I’m already wondering what that looks like when people come and go so readily. I’m not used to that. I was careful to create some goodbye rituals last semester that I think we will continue, but it’s still difficult. I think (and I am sort of wondering out loud) that for us home will more center around our physical house and location, welcoming people in and out of it, but not putting people outside our family too close to the center of what we consider “home” here.

    1. Laura January 19, 2016

      Lisa, thank you for sharing how you have helped your family create a home in your new country. I agree that living in a transient community makes it more difficult to have people make the home. When I moved back to Lisbon to teach again, after being away for 3 years, I had to build new relationships and adjust to what the team looked like in 2010 vs. 2007 when I left. This did take time, but I say this to encourage you that even in a transient community people can play a part in making a place home. Perhaps your family is and will be that “home” for other people as they come and go. Praying for you and your family, Lisa.

      1. Lisa January 24, 2016

        Thanks for your encouragement, Laura! Last semester I intentionally reached out to some one-semester folks because I know that often they aren’t as included in the community. I want to make sure I don’t get so jaded that I close my heart to the people I already know are leaving, even as they are coming. YES, I think our long-term goal is to become “home away from home” for them… once I make this place home for us as well… 😉

    2. Michele Zintz January 19, 2016

      I was one of those who mentioned people, but in that place it was the local people that made it home- and still make it home as most of them are still there every time I go back.  It sounds like you are in more of an international community setting, which is what my current position is like though I’ve still found a few local friends I know will likely be around a long time.  As a single, those connections might be a bit more important for me than if I was here with a family.  Having watched others deal with this in different ways for several years now, I just want to affirm that taking care of your family and making your house ‘home’ for them first is so important.  I really think as you do that, it will become a kind of ‘refuge’ for others as they come and go too, which is a really great ministry!   Praying for you as you work through this season together!

    3. Phyllis January 24, 2016

      I would love to know more about what your “goodbye rituals” are.

  8. Anna January 19, 2016

    I like the term “second home.”  I was in Congo for 5 years in the same house doing the same things (two periods of time with a year in-between).  It felt like home, sort of, but not exactly.  Second home is a good way to say it.

    One thing for me when we first moved was to make sure I was all there.  I missed the US and my family and familiar things.  But I knew if I let longing for them consume me, I would have my mind and heart there instead of where I physically lived.  Before moving, I had met several women who were in ministry overseas, and were never happy where they lived.  I could see their unhappiness, and I knew I couldn’t live that way.  That made me more conscious of the need to dig in where I was.

    The other parts were nothing I did, but the people there who accepted me in spite of my differences and became my friends and family there.  Some of it was making memories with the people and places.  Unfortunately, we had to leave and will be somewhere else in Africa (Mali).  But having done it once before, I know that it can happen again.

  9. Laura January 20, 2016

    Anna, I love how you chose to dig in to life where you were. What great advice! And I also love your attitude about adjusting to another new place. 🙂

  10. Phyllis January 24, 2016

    For me, my “second home” really is my HOME. That has come with time more than anything; I’ve lived in this part of the world for so long, how could it not be home for me? Lately, I’ve found myself referring to my first home more and more as “the place were I grew up,” or something along those lines. Even the words I use have changed. (Again.)

    This is only semi-related but I think some will relate, so I’ll tell it: yesterday I was feeding a baby at the orphanage a banana that I had brought. It was cold. My Ukrainian/Russian self was mentally screaming that he would get sick, and that I would be blamed. The American self in there was rationally saying that of course he would be fine, and no one would ever even know. I have conversations like this all the time in my head. Tell me I’m not the only one? Please? 😀

    1. Michele Zintz January 24, 2016

      Phyllis, you are so not the only one.

    2. Laura January 26, 2016

      Phyllis, thanks for sharing how your second home has become HOME. What a great encouragement and hope to those who are beginning their overseas journey. 🙂

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