Home? My thoughts, feelings and experiences…

“we enter our house through the front door, but enter our home through our slippers” (Bachelard’s 2003:1939).

Home can shift across geographical space, yet it is usually the centre of each person’s universe (Douglas, 1991). This post is going to explore my own, personal associations with ‘home’ and my own experiences with having multiple homes. Geographers have realised that home is essential to everyday life, and is therefore an important site of geographical research (Blunt and Varley, 2004). Domestic space – the home – is an ever growing sub-discipline within geography and due to international migration, the movement and settling of people is also changing, and consequently, so does the theoretical context in which home is placed (Walsh, 2011).

Okay, so to start; I was born in Holland, quite a small country, famous for the stunning scenery, tulips, clogs and windmills. I was born in Groningen, (North) Holland and as my mother is Dutch, I have a Dutch passport: so I am, therefore, Dutch; The Netherlands is my ‘homeland’. I guess I end up with a diasporic identity; which along with material and imagined connections of my childhood means I always feel ‘at home’ in Holland but maintain connections with other places as well (Blunt, 2007).  Whenever I go back to see my family, as I fly in over the coast and land in Amsterdam, I hear the language, see familiar places and I get a warm, fuzzy feeling which makes me happy. A full sensory overload of being ‘at home’ – I like to think this will never go away. I am proud to call Holland home.

Dubai, in contrast to Holland is huge, and with the city comes a variety of connotations of wealth, skyscrapers, beaches and Palm Island; it’s a city that attracts thousands of migrants (and tourists) each year, for a variety of different reasons. Having said this, Dubai also has a negative global image of “gated communities, conspicuous consumption, exploitation of labour and ‘unsustainable’ growth” (Walsh, 2012). Dubai is one of the richest cities in the world, through oil wealth, huge tourist industry and international investment. Due to these circumstances it is a popular destination for expatriates and their families; however, owing to its rapid growth and globalisation, it can be argued that it is a difficult country in which to feel ‘at home’. Expatriate feelings of ‘home’ in Dubai are complex; feelings of belonging, security and everyday-life can be quite different to what people expect. According to Ahmed (1999), a home can be multiple places, which reiterates the expatriate’s idea that ‘home’ is a more complex understanding than just a house which one inhabits.

In Walsh’s study on Home in Dubai; there is a specific interest in how families recreate the feelings of belonging and intimacy through friendships. Walsh (2009) goes on to say that friendships in places such as Dubai are often strong; mainly due to the mutual characteristics and experiences that the expatriates share. People are highly dependent on their relationships with others, and the social ties that are created within an unfamiliar space are vital to feel comfortable and to produce a sense of belonging. Basically, the friends I made really did make me feel ‘at home’ when I was growing-up, which is something I remember fondly about Dubai. Remembering and imagining homelands is common (Blunt, 2007). Home can be a physical location, but also a metaphorical space of emotion and belonging; and this is definitely true in my case, as these are the feelings I get when thinking about Dubai; it will always feel like a home.

I moved back to England when I was 10, I remember feeling quite lost, but of course, those feeling of insecurity soon disappeared when I settled into school and make new friends, and now I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I had similar emotions when I moved away to university to Royal Holloway, University of London: students end up living in two homes with differing qualities,  the parental/familial home; and the temporary student home; new spaces which then become meaningful and important to each one of us through freedom for personalisation and independence (Hinton, 2011 and Thomsen, 2007). The importance of identity, security and self-esteem reiterate that although student housing may be temporary, the feeling of being ‘at home’ and the emotions which surround this are still very important.

I recently, moved again; having lived in university halls in my first year of university, I thought it would be great to live in them again as a ‘post-grad’ – I was quite wrong. From my previous experience in my first year, it was a great social space, designed so you had communal space to be with friends and your own space when needed. Having said this, when you take the ‘social’ out of the communal space, it can become lonely. I’m not afraid to admit that halls can be unsociable, lonely and claustrophobic. Home’ is meant to be a place in which we belong, where we are familiar, a site where we feel at ease and comfortable (Blunt and Dowling, 2006). This was certainly not the case for me for the first few months. So, as all good things start with a dream, I asked my best-friend if she would move out of her halls and live in a house with me… and thankfully, 3 months later; we have a beautiful little house, where I am happy, comfortable, and cozy and I feel safe. Basically, the point I’m trying to make is that as people change, our ‘homely’ needs change as well. Four years ago I was happy in halls, this year the tiny room did not quite meet my expectations, on any level.

A running theme throughout all of these places: Dubai, Holland, my familial home, and university, it is the people I interact with in each space which makes it meaningful and therefore; in part, my home. These people create the feelings which one’s home should illustrate: belonging, comfort, love, and safety; I think this quote from Kaika illustrates this well; “The modern home became constructed not only as a line separating the inside from the outside (a house), but also as the epitome, the spatial inscription of the idea of individual freedom, a place liberated from fear and anxiety, a place supposedly untouched by social, political and natural processes, a place enjoying an autonomous and independent existence: a home” (2004: 266).

-Emma Shenton (MA, Cultural Geography Research)

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