I was four years old when I got on my first plane. That fateful ride took me from my birth country to another continent and set me on my journey as someone more at home on the move than in any one specific place. In the late 1970s, moving from Asia to North America was a feat for our family of four and looking back I’m amazed at all that my mother managed to do for us in our first of many homes abroad, despite being an sheltered and inexperienced traveler in her twenties. That first move at four was repeated at ages nine, twelve, thirteen, each time my father’s professional interests throwing the three of us – my mother, brother, and me – to our own resources as we created a ‘home’ in each of the new places we found ourselves.
Perhaps this is why others marvel at how quickly I set up my own homes, also in a series of moves from age seventeen to college, twenty two for further graduate study, twenty four for professional pursuits, and most recently at twenty six to Qatar.
Although the locations have varied, the elements I use to make myself feel at home have stayed the same. Here are some suggestions:
A few key photos filled my suitcase when I arrived in Doha as I waited for other items to arrive by air freight. The first night in my marble floored and echoing apartment, I put up photos and souvenir magnets on the refrigerator, framed favorite family moments in the living room and bedroom. I felt better when I went to bed and was surprised when my colleagues exclaimed how cozy and personalized my apartment (which looked exactly like theirs in layout and furnishings) felt during our first week in country. It seemed homesickness was chasing us all and the bright smiles of my loved ones helped ease the sense of distance.
My first trip to a grocery store in Qatar was with a group of colleagues, as we were using group transportation while waiting for our driver’s licenses. While others piled back into the van with bags full of cold cuts, meat, and bread, I clambered on with an armful of white lilies, causing everyone to chuckle. We had been feasting at local restaurants all week and food had been the furthest thing from my mind as I wandered the aisles of the Carrefour. Instead, I found my way to the flower stand and remembered how the scent of Easter lilies could make any dull afternoon seem bearable. I bought a few strands and met the van. Flowers – either fresh cut or as potted plants – can soften the often sterile feeling in many new spaces.
Music is another element to tuck away in a pocket of a suitcase when relocating. A small CD case of ten or so favorite albums can make any new space seem familiar as it fills up with the nostalgic notes of your current favorite artist.