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.”
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.