Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
March 30, 2023

My definition of home and how it’s changed

By ELIZABETH IM | December 5, 2019


What does it mean to go home? What, and where, is home? 

To most, physical roots are important to our identities: where we were born, where we live and where we come from. Sometimes, I’ve seen people get offended when someone from just outside of New York City say that they are from New York. I understand the indignation; I also have the urge to call out people who claim they are from Seoul when they aren’t. But why do we have this urge? Why does it bother us when someone who is not “really” from your hometown claims to be from there? 

Growing up, various physical places have continuously gained and lost the title of “home.” I spent half of my life away from Seoul, where my family lives and where I was born. This mere fact gets either sad reactions or admiration. However, if you ask me, I don’t regret a moment of my upbringing, nor do I think it was a grand act of bravery to be so far from home. Everything was natural to me and I made the decisions. It wasn’t about leaving, but about discovering new places and new perspectives. 

When I was seven, my mom took me and my sister to Toronto, Canada for a global education. The 14-hour flight felt like forever and I hated plane food. Even while I was on that dreadful plane, I didn’t fully realize what it meant to move to a different country. But I knew something was different as we drove to our new home from the Pearson International Airport. 

When I stuck my head out the window of the back seat, the evening air that blew against my face was somehow different. After three years of building snow forts during recess and many other amazing memories that I cannot describe all in this one article, we came back to Korea. Then at age 14, I declared to my parents that I’d like to study abroad — again. This was how I ended up in Mercersburg Academy, a boarding school in Pennsylvania, for the next four years of my life. 

Looking back, I am surprised at my own certainty of leaving home. Perhaps it was because I had already practiced leaving home when I went to Canada — the second time is always easier. Mercersburg changed everything. I learned to share a room with a stranger, who soon became as dear to me as my own family.  I learned to deal with difficult situations by myself: One time, I couldn’t figure out how to pay phone bills, and Verizon almost let loose a loan shark on me; I broke down crying on the phone when a Verizon employee couldn’t figure out what I should do either. Thankfully, I think the lady felt bad and cleared the record because I didn’t get another phone call after that. More importantly, it was the first time I lived in one place for four years straight. Soon, Mercersburg, the 300 acres of land with numerous state-of-the-art buildings, became a dear place to me: another home. 

But when I go back now, after having graduated, it’s not the Mercersburg I know. A physical place loses meaning without the people there. Sometimes, I envy those who can go back “home” and find their entire family and friends waiting for them in that one place. Those I care about are scattered around the globe, and it takes weeks of planning to meet in one place. Once again, another place has lost the badge of “home,” and now I am on another mission to find a new home, here at Hopkins. 

Having parted from physical locations several times, I am now wary of planting my roots deep. No matter how strong I pretend to be, it hurts everytime I uproot from a familiar place. So, I adapted: I learned to build stronger ties with people. When someone asks me where home is, I reply, “Seoul.” Yet, if my family decides to move to another place one day, it is no longer “home” and what’s left are the remnants of memories. Our roots, our home, is not with a physical location; rather it is with the people we love. 

I acknowledge that it is difficult to build deep relationships in college because of the fast-paced, goal-oriented life we individually lead. Even though I am still in my third semester at Hopkins, I can feel the end approaching. Already, some of my friends are talking about graduating, eager to move on to the next step in life. I want to remind them it’s okay to go slowly. The end is unavoidable anyways; the day we stand on the graduation platform will come much quicker than we think. 

More importantly, I value my friends and I want them to really connect with me, with others and with what Hopkins has to offer for the next couple of years. It is easy to think that the meaningful place Hopkins will become by the time we leave will stay the same forever. After all, it has been firmly standing in the center of Baltimore for decades. However, once we leave, it will not be the same. The memory and the connections are all that will be left of Hopkins after 50 years.

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