I don’t think I ever really understood the meaning of “home” until I went out and made one for myself, over 5000 miles away from what my idea of “home” had always been.
My home had always been the place where I grew up, the place in Oklahoma with familiar faces and roads in which I knew every turn. It had been the place where I had always lived, where all my memories were made. I thought it was special just because it was where I came from.
After spending a semester in Graz, Austria, home is very different to me now.
To me, home is no longer simply where you’re from. Home is something that you make for yourself.
I have surely made a home for myself this past semester. I became a part of something that, only a few short months ago, was completely foreign to me. And, in the most cliché of statements, I’d like to think that Graz became a part of me, too.
In my town in Oklahoma, I had always been there. My reputation preceded me, everywhere I went. The kids with whom I grew up and people I had always been around knew me inside and out, through every phase of my life. They had seen me through struggles and stages I care little about, while I was working on becoming who I am today. As hard as we try not to, I think those preconceived notions of other people stay with us forever, and always shape how we see people and interact with them. I think that’s especially true in Oklahoma, where everything seems to move a little bit slower, and people are a little less concerned with the passage of time and the development of thoughts, ideas, and people in general.
It’s not that I completely reject who I was as a kid, or even who I was a year ago. It’s that, no matter what I do in Oklahoma, there will always be those who have placed me in a box, the same box in which I have always been stuck.
However, that all changed when I arrived in Graz.
Here, I have been able to shape myself completely as the person I want to be. Every person I meet is a new opportunity to grow. The lifelong friendships I have made here are not simply shared with people I know because of locational circumstance, but serendipity. The person I get to be when I’m around them and getting to know them, doesn’t have to carry the weight of who I have been for my whole life. My identity is no longer tied to where I’m from, and everything I’ve done in the past. It is concerned only with today, and what tomorrow brings.
As someone who has struggled with identity issues for most of my life, this feeling of being able to shed the past 20-odd years is astounding, and freeing. I truly have never felt so free in my whole life.
So, Graz, this is my love letter to you.
Meine große Liebe, oh how I admire you. It may seem self-centered, but over the course of these last few months, I have learned just as much about myself as I have learned about the whole world. And at the heart of this change, my dear, is you. You, with your lovely cobblestone streets, often cut through by tram lines. Your beautiful, thoughtful, colorful buildings and churches, adorned with delicate detail. Your sweet air, which has filled me with pleasure at all times of the day. Your tame midnight streets coupled with your boisterous nightlife, your green color which I haven’t experienced anywhere else.
At the heart of you lies the Schloßberg, where one can enjoy views of you in all your majesty.
And at the heart of me lies you, where one can see my ultimate adoration.
Graz, my love, my true home. How grateful I am to have met you.