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Photos courtesy of Grace Bechdol.

Untethered: Redefining Home

I’ve learned that home will never be something I can clearly define. Home isn’t concrete, it will continue to shift and evolve. With every year, I leave things behind that once made me feel at home and discover new things to fill those gaps.

Nov 13, 2021

Coming to NYU Abu Dhabi, I felt like I had one of the most boring responses to the incessant question of where I was from. My answer, the United States, usually consisted of some trite comment about my home state of Indiana being “the one with a lot of corn… the one where Parks and Rec is based... the one where Mike Pence used to be our governor.” I was born in Washington D.C., but spent my entire life from about the age of three in my parents’ hometown of Auburn, Indiana and turned out to be a fairly stereotypical midwest farm girl.
Less than a week after I arrived on campus in my freshman year, I got a call from my parents with news of a job offer that would relocate them to Rome, Italy in the spring of 2020. I had barely left home, so I couldn’t process at the time how big the move to Europe would be for me. When I went back home for Christmas at the end of my freshman fall semester, knowing that it was the last time I’d be in my childhood home before my parents’ move, I was heartbroken to leave.
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Photos from childhood in Washington D.C. Courtesy of Grace Bechdol.
When I left for university, I couldn’t wait to get out of Indiana and now I wish I had never been in such a hurry to escape. That summer after I graduated high school was the last time my sense of home would be as stable as it used to be. I was in my family home, I spent all my time with my friends and family, and we all spent those three months simply enjoying our last moments of life as we knew it. I’ve always thought of home as Indiana and all my memories and loved ones there.
Home is my family’s farm. I’m the seventh generation to live on the family corn and soybean farm and grew up surrounded by the highs and lows of planting and harvest season. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my grandpa showing me and my friends how to pull raw soybeans out of the pod and going sledding down the hill behind the house in the winter as the sled bumped over remaining bits of corn stalks.
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Photos from childhood in Indiana. Courtesy of Grace Bechdol.
Home is the memories of driving around the golf course with my dad, eating circus peanuts, cleaning golf balls and putting for him so I could claim I contributed to the score card. It’s the memories of running around the construction site for our house when it was nothing more than a big concrete slab. It’s my mom and me flipping through kids’ clothing catalogues picking out school picture day outfits. It’s my parents’ work trips that I always managed to tag along on. Home resides in even the traumatic memories of childhood accidents, from the bumblebee that got stuck in my ear on a swing set, to the time I got stuck on a Colorado ski lift to when I fell off a disc rope swing and broke my collarbone.
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Photos of paternal and maternal grandmothers. Courtesy of Grace Bechdol.
Home is the people who helped raise me even though they’re no longer around. It’s the years I spent visiting my maternal grandma in the nursing home after elementary school: watching E.T. on repeat, playing solitaire, singing to the birds in the lobby birdcage and drawing hundreds of stick figures. It’s my paternal grandma hiding my favorite candy bars in her jewelry box so my cousins wouldn’t steal them. Home is the summer pool days at her house, painting our nails with glitter polish and cuddling on the couch with her three annoying but adorable dachshunds.
Home is our annual family trips to Michigan, where we would go to the same tiny town every summer since I was born. It’s the walks to get ice cream, the fishing trips, the long bike rides and watching the freighter ships pass by.
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Photos from childhood in Barbeau, Michigan. Courtesy of Grace Bechdol.
Home is the puppy my dad got me (without telling my mom) for Christmas after I begged for a sibling. It’s the two cats we adopted after I wanted one but my mom and I couldn’t pick between our favorites. It’s the endless goldfish I won at the county fair in different games.
Home is the food I love. It’s my dad’s chicken pot pies that he continues to send me every year while I’m at university. It’s the corn on the cob we buy at the market and shuck on the back porch. It’s the pigs-in-a-blanket my mom made me one day after kindergarten that I wouldn’t stop telling my teachers I was so excited for. It’s the peanut butter blossom cookies that I make in my dorm room when I’m feeling nostalgic.
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Photos of family food favorites. Courtesy of Grace Bechdol.
Home is the holidays. It’s making homemade place cards for everyone at Thanksgiving dinner. It’s decorating every square inch of the house every Christmas and spending Christmas Eve with my dad’s family and Christmas Day with my mom’s. It’s doing an annual easter egg hunt or carving pumpkins and trick-or-treating with my cousins. It’s the fireworks, sparklers and s’more bonfires on the 4th of July.
Now, as I think about home, I’m shocked by how many different things come to mind. The fifteen years I spent in Indiana leaves me with an overwhelming sense of home that I miss every day. My two and a half years at NYUAD have given me experiences that have made me reevaluate what home really meant. Even the two summers I’ve spent in Rome with my parents, albeit during Covid-19 times, have felt like a version of home in their own way.
In Italy, home has become nightly dinners with my parents, something we never did when I was growing up. Instead of corn-on-the-cob, comfort food has become homemade pasta and tiramisu. Home in Italy is walks with my dad through our favorite parts of the city. It’s haircuts and gossip lunches and wine with my mom on random busy side streets. It’s playing with our neighbor’s dog in the yard and speaking to his owner in horribly broken Italian. It’s the night time runs to the gelato stand down the street when my parents and I have cravings.
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Photos of family in Italy. Courtesy of Grace Bechdol.
In Abu Dhabi, home has become weekly sing and dance sessions with my roommate. Comfort food has become Abd El Wahab Tuesday dinners and Dragon Bao Bao. Home is going to the beach with my friends then walking the boardwalk at sunset. It’s sitting with my laptop working on assignments under the Louvre dome. It’s playing with my favorite campus cats at night outside my dorm building. It’s weekly catch up calls with my parents and late night trips into the city for midnight breakfast at Denny’s or a cup of Karak on Hamdan Street. It’s movie and video game nights on a grainy projector. It’s the polaroids and memories on my wall from other “homes” so I keep all of them in my heart.
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Photos of family in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy of Grace Bechdol.
I’ve learned that “home” will never be something I can clearly define. No matter where I am, some piece of home will still be missing: my family, my childhood friends, my university friends, my favorite foods. But, there will always be something new that adds to my sense of home. Home isn’t concrete, it will continue to shift and evolve. With every year, I leave behind things that once made me feel at home and discover new things to fill those gaps.
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Photos of different homes (from left to right, Rome, Indiana, and Abu Dhabi). Courtesy of Grace Bechdol.
Home is Indiana. Home is Abu Dhabi. Home is Italy. Next semester, home will be New York. Home is not just a place, but it’s my memories, both good and bad, it’s my family, it’s my friends and it’s my habits. Home is something in me that finds the things that make these places feel comfortable and safe. Home is making the most of wherever I am at any given time. I feel blessed to have so many places that I can call home in one way or another, even if that means a life of constantly feeling nostalgic for something that’s no longer there, and I am eternally grateful to all the people that have helped make these places home.
Grace Bechdol is Editor-in-Chief. Email her at
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