Where is your home? Where do you feel most at ease, laid back and comfortable? Is it the place where you grew up? Comfortable and cozy in your familiar surroundings? Or is it somewhere far, far away from the environment that felt so close before? Could it be anywhere? Could it be nowhere?
Where do I feel at home?
This question has been with me for a long time now. As I have not been “home” for quite a while, it necessarily had to pop up eventually. Because right now, I have no idea which place I want to call home. Vienna, Austria, is definitely the place I grew up in, the place most of my friends and family live in. It is a city I know well, a city I love. But does that make it my home? Not necessarily. Especially if you are not sure if you will stay.
I´ve spent the whole year of 2018 abroad so far, and I will continue to do so. First, I studied abroad in Bordeaux, France. Then I moved to Barcelona to live with my boyfriend and work in the meantime. Did I feel at home in these two cities? Strangely, yes and no. I would say yes to Bordeaux, I would say no to Barcelona. Which might surprise a lot of people. After all, Barcelona is a city almost everybody loves. It´s the city right at the beach in beautiful Spain everybody loves to visit. I, however, will be quite happy to leave the city. I never got to feel really at home here. But why? Well, let me share my story of feeling at home with you. Let’s skip back to the early beginnings of 2018.
Living in Bordeaux
Moving to this city in early 2018 was amazing. I enjoyed my exchange semester there a lot and I met some truly wonderful people I will remember for the rest of my life. It´s not too big, not too stressful, with enough green spots and parcs to take a walk and enjoy your free time. It´s a city of students, full of international, but also French students who come there from all over France.
The city is international, but it still remains a French city. If you want to talk to the locals and to make local friends, you better speak French. Otherwise, it will be a bit difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. But that was exactly what I loved about the city. People would actually speak French to me even if my French wasn´t that good at the time. They would only rarely switch to English. I just loved this experience. I like being “forced” to talk a language as you will learn most from just trying and eventually succeeding talking it. That was my reason to come to Bordeaux. To learn the language and to experience the French culture.
I learned and I grew a lot during this time. Not during my first weeks, however. Back then I was completely torn into my first Erasmus experience. As every Erasmus student I was ready to go out and party. That´s basically how my first weeks went. After that, a general switch took place. I started to participate in a dancing class learning Bachata and Kizomba which I loved instantly. Slowly but surely, I stopped going out as I didn´t see a sense in doing so anymore. I preferred going out to dance with my friends from dancing class. Going out just to merely drink was just becoming strange to me. I went to some language exchanges where I met a lot of wonderful, inspiring, young people with a vision. People I could have great conversations with and I will never forget.
Coming back to the city for a bit, Bordeaux is also a bit more environmentally friendly than Barcelona. Now that I have the comparison, I would say people are more aware of the environment and of their influence and responsibility to keep our planet clean. In Spain, this consciousness is sadly not very widespread.
Now let’s take a look at this city. I have been wondering for a long time why I don´t feel at home in this place a lot of people adore and dream about. Granted, I experienced the city a bit different than I experienced Bordeaux. I moved there to live with my boyfriend and to work, not to study. Naturally, working life is not as fun as studying. But living with my boyfriend is. So, I was not even alone in the city. What happened then? Well, sometimes, things are complicated. But until this day, I do not feel very welcome in the city.
The first job I found was as a pub crawl leader. Which was cool at the time, but after a while I realized that this job wasn´t made for me. Before, I had been slowly moving away from the going out and drinking life. At the end I rarely even drank in Bordeaux. Now I was thrown back into a scene I actually wanted to escape from. And I had to have fun. It was my job, after all. Doesn´t sound bad, if you´re a party person. But as I wanted to do something different I felt like not being true to myself. Betraying myself, trying to convince me that this was fun and what I wanted to do. When it was most definitely not.
I am on open person, I love talking to people and getting to know them better. Something I had to do gathering people for the pub crawl. This part was fun. It was a part I really enjoyed. In one week I met a lot of people, lots of new connections. But what I didn´t like was the partying and drinking all night long. After I was into the job almost a month, I wanted to stop drinking, I was so fed up with partying and going out. This life might be enjoyable for some, but it was not for me. Every night is simply too much. I felt like going on in this manner I would just waste time, while having meaningless conversations with drunk strangers who will not even remember my name the next day. While killing my senses with alcohol. Thanks, but no thanks. It was time to look for something else.
I applied for a job in a call center and was promptly taken. Working for the German market, answering call after call every day. Not a particularly fun job either, but easy to find, easy to get. Right now, I am genuinely thankful that I applied to this job. I met so many great people, people interested in yoga, people who inspired me and brought me to where I am now. I would not have wanted to miss these connections. This was one of the good sides of the city. I also grew way deeper into my yoga practice.
Then I began to understand more and more why I could not catch feelings for this city. Barcelona is a party city. Of course, there are living a lot of people, so surely not everyone likes to party. But it´s the general mood, the general vibe of the city. Most people I encounter are here for the good life, the easy life, the party life. A life I am really interested in. People are nice, easy going, international, mixed. People are cool. I just don´t enjoy the same kind of activities most of them enjoy as well.
As I said, a very international, touristic city. Which is a good and a bad thing. If you want to meet someone who´s speaking your language – no problem. If you want to meet a real Spanish person from Barcelona, it will be difficult. I´ve been living here for six months now and can say I have one Spanish friend from Barcelona. Just one. Not more. Everyone else is from another country.
So, if you´re here trying to learn Spanish, be prepared for people answering you in English. And the real locals even speak Catalan which is a whole other story. I wanted to learn Spanish, but my everyday life I´m mastering in English. At home I talk to my Brazilian boyfriend in English. At work I was talking German or English. No Spanish whatsoever. This bothered me, as I wanted to learn but at the same time people kept responding to me in English. After a while, I kind of gave up on it. I thought I might as well learn it somewhere else. It was only recently that I discovered my love for the language again. It took me travelling to Madrid where I talked in Spanish for three days to discover that I actually do love the language. I just forgot it. Now it´s finally coming back.
Another aspect why Barcelona isn´t that great for me is that I am really missing green areas. Finding a parc in this city will be a challenge and most of the times they are very tiny with just a few trees. There is the famous Parc Güell, which is very touristic and far away, then there is another great parc at Monjuic and parc de la Citudella. That´s it. Three big parcs for a whole city. Which is simply not enough for me. The city is too grey, too busy and too big. The easy going stereotypical Spanish way of life doesn´t really exist here. I rather find Barcelona has already been transformed in a stressful business city where people work too be somehow able to afford their overpriced flats. Maybe this relaxed way of Spanish life can be found in other cities, but not in Barcelona.
Where do I feel at home then?
So, how do you feel at home in a city? When and why? When the thought of not really liking Barcelona first came up I began to wonder why this might be. What could possibly have happened that I didn´t enjoy this city so many people adore and dream living in? As I started talking with others who felt the same we discovered the same disbelief of not liking this supposedly wonderful city. As everybody tells you the city is great, there´s a lot of nightlife you start to wonder what might be wrong with you that you cannot enjoy it. The truth is, nothing is wrong with you. I´ve found that some cities are made for some people, others aren´t. Of course, you can find people who think like you in any kind of city. But for me, the overall vibe, the overall feeling in the city has to fit. Otherwise, this feeling of being at home will simply not occur. Not even if I am with a person I love – which helped a lot to still enjoy my time here even though I know the city is not made for me.
So, what does it take to feel at home at a place? For me, this depends more on a feeling that on anything else. I feel like Barcelona will not be able to grow on me. Bordeaux could. And what about Vienna? After all, I´ve just been away for a year. But in a year, a lot can change. I don´t necessarily consider Vienna my home now either. I´ve been away for too long. So far, it´s just been a year, but a year is still a long time.
Right now, I could not possibly say where I strongly feel at home. I could develop this feeling for a lot of places. For more than one. You don´t necessarily have to settle for one place in this world if there´s so much out to see. For me, there just have to be certain components that are always important. Being in a relaxed, green environment and having people around you whom you are important to. If these two factors are present I am convinced I can feel at home anywhere. If not, I will struggle and wonder what went wrong in this place, why I don’t like this place as much as I should.
This feeling of being at home is very personal, very subjective. My definition could be completely different from yours. Still, it´s important to find your definition. Especially if you´re travelling or if you´re looking a place to settle you need to know what you´re looking for. I am grateful for having experienced two very different cities for a while now. It showed me more clearly what I wanted and what I didn´t want at all. If you´re unsure yourself and have the chance to live in a variety of cities I would strongly recommend you to just go out and try. You will soon see which places will be able to grow on you and which ones you will never want to set foot in again.
Want to read more posts like this? Here you can find more about my thoughts on a quarter life crises