I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of home recently. I’m writing this as I approach my last week in Oxford, after ten months here and three years in Southampton before that. I’m moving back to live with my family, where I’ll be based as I work for Student Hubs and study for a part-time MA in London.
I left Sussex in 2012 when I moved to Southampton for university. I spent a lot of my first year feeling as if I was walking around with ‘Bear with me, I’m transitioning’ written on my forehead. Still, I found a sense of community as I studied, made friends, volunteered with Southampton Hub and worked with school groups through the university’s outreach department. I learned to appreciate parts of the city and grew to love Avenue Campus, the Common, Trago Lounge, Mettricks, Southampton City Art Gallery, The Art House, Rice Up Wholefoods and Harbour Lights Picturehouse.
By the spring of 2015, I felt ready to leave, but also sad at the thought of it. A packed schedule and health issues had put a strain on me, physically and mentally. I was diagnosed with coeliac disease during a quiet summer at home. Going from an independent life of studying and other commitments to being dependent on my family was difficult, but I needed that time to get better and learn to appreciate who I am outside of the things I do (you can read my thoughts on identity here).
In August I moved to Oxford – the city of dreaming spires and students on bicycles. I feel like I’ve grown more into myself here. Work has kept me busy, but I’ve made time for self-care and figuring out what I want. I’ve loved walking around Christ Church Meadow, in University Parks, along the Thames Path and through Port Meadow. I’ve spent afternoons sneakily reading in Blackwell’s and evenings seeing talks and plays at the Sheldonian and the Playhouse. I’ve visited my favourite collection of pottery at the Ashmolean and volunteered at their family events.
I’ve shaken off stresses to Taylor Swift during Zumba classes at the Old Firestation. I’ve been to the cinema by myself (to see Joy and The Big Short, if you’re wondering) and to London often. I’ve engaged in ‘Where are we going? How should the world’s problems be fixed?’ conversations with my housemates and fellow Worthwhile graduates. I’ve appreciated evenings out dancing and lazy afternoons at home with tea, Netflix and friends. I’ve enjoyed spending my days with the Student Hubs team and time alone with my notebook in the Turl Street Kitchen.
All of these things have given me a strong sense of home in Oxford. At times I’ve felt landlocked (growing up by the sea will do that to you) and frustrated at having to wade my way through tourists to get to work, but the beauty of the place and the people I’ve spent the year with have far outweighed those moments. I’m grateful to have experienced living here, although now feels like the right time to leave and get some rest before starting work and university again.
I think we can find a sense of home in places we’ve never lived at all, too. I’ve been to Mumbles and the Gower in South Wales once (if not more) during nearly every year of my life. Collectively, I’ve spent months there. It’s where my Dad went to university and where he met my Mum when they were teenagers. From Oystermouth Castle, you can see the house where my Grandad and great grandparents lived. I’ve explored the cliffs and beaches with old friends. It’s where I’ve seen my younger cousins grow up and my older cousin get married. I find comfort in the familiarity and consistency of the place – it’s full of family history, love and happy memories.
I also find this at home in Sussex, although I sometimes felt uncomfortable there during breaks from university. I liked seeing my family and school friends, but it felt odd to be at the site of so much personal history when I was trying to build a life elsewhere. Now, though, I appreciate it as both the place I grew up and somewhere I can be happy in the present.
As I start to pack up my room in Oxford and the friends I’ve made this year move on to other places and opportunities, I’ve come to the conclusion that home is wherever we root ourselves and build a community – whether we’re there for six months, sixty years or intermittently. I feel lucky to be able to call so many places home.