creating home abroad

The first apartment I lived in as a somewhat independent adult was in Hyde Park, tucked cozily on the corner of 54th and Woodlawn. I was nineteen and had just finished my first year of college. I had quickly grown tired of overpriced, tiny dorm rooms and mediocre dining hall meals. I felt ready to make a change. Luckily, I had made a friend that summer who felt similarly. Early into our friendship, we decided that we would leave the dorms and live together the following year.

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I learned so much during the two years we spent together in our south-side Chicago apartment. I think of my college roommate Nina often these days, as I make a new home for myself here in Amman. I wonder if she understands how much she taught me about living well.

Nina viewed home as a sacred space, a place to replenish the soul. She tended to our apartment with corresponding devotion. She would bring fresh flowers and green plants on her way home from class, arranging them carefully in glass jars along the windowsill. She strung black and white photographs along a string that she tacked along the hallway. She installed antique shelves in our living room, which we adorned with our most beloved books. She made elaborate meals for herself and took the time to plate them in ways that pleased her.

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Nina did all these things, not necessarily because they served a function or increased her productivity, but as an act of care for herself. This love spilled beyond the boundaries of her own life into mine. I began thinking more seriously about the small ways that I too could bring joy into my every day. I saw a role model in Nina, someone who did not allow the demands of being a busy college student to deprive her of life itself.

I offer these reflections now, nearly four years later and ten thousand kilometers away, because home is on my mind.

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I recently moved into a new apartment in a different neighborhood here in Amman. Not only have I physically changed my location, but I have also entered a new stage in my Fulbright year. I spent my first six months in Jordan trying to do everything. I insisted on seeing new places every weekend, constantly making new friends, and taking up as many new opportunities in my work and studies. I was so concerned about expanding my comfort zone that I forgot to truly build one. I did not prioritize the rituals involved in building a home. The place I lived in became a launching pad to the world outside, rather than a world within itself. I found joy in the company of my wonderful and eternally supportive roommates, yet I still felt somehow unsettled, as though I was constantly in motion.

My move to a new apartment coincided with the realization that I needed to settle more comfortably into my life here, even if that meant being less busy. Over the past month I have been re-assessing what it would take for me to feel more at home in Jordan. I cut back on some extraneous commitments and set priorities for my work.

I spend more time in my apartment. I buy fresh fruits and vegetables every couple of days at the corner market, rather than stocking up for an entire week at the grocery store. I take a few moments to look up recipes that excite me, and try to cook something different every day. I have invested in a membership at a gym within walking distance, and I’ve slowly gotten back into running. I am returning to the practice of journaling by making my diary, instead of my email, the accompaniment to my morning coffee.

And it feels good to slow down.

I recognize that I may not always be able to do all of these things for myself. I grasp that the freedom of structuring my own schedule is a great privilege of this grant. And so I hope to honor the time and space at my disposal for the four months that remain of my Fulbright term.

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This year is certainly not about making my life in Amman resemble exactly the life that I live back in the United States. But I think it is okay to step back sometimes and create comfort in the moments between pushing comfort zones. In fact, I am finding it is essential to my own living sustainably abroad.

All new beginnings should be accompanied with some reflections on gratitude for the past and present. I would like to dedicate this post to all the people I have shared a home with, and to my current roommate, Miriam. It certainly is not easy to sync your life alongside that of somebody else’s, no matter how lovely the company. But the connection that co-existing fosters and the lessons that can be learned along the way are worth the effort.

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Home can mean many different things depending on who you ask. I would love to hear from you all: What does home mean to you? What does it take to make you feel at home?

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[Originally published on Andrea in Amman blog, May 2017]

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