The concept of home seemed to have taken new significance Sophie Weinmann

When talking about what home means to me, I alway find myself going back to a terminological distinction that exists in the German language, one that doesn’t translate into English. Whereas the English term “home” emcompasses everything from “the house a person lives in” to “the place where a person feels they belong”, there are two separate words in German for the place you “come from” and the place you currently live in and you feel acts as your place of retreat.

For most people, the two are the same up until they move out for university, then one becomes a constant they can always go back to and one becomes something temporary that may change over time. This distinction perfectly highlights how the idea of home can be so abstract on the one side – referring simply to your current address or the place of birth listed in your passport – and so deeply rooted in the most personal and often complicated feelings on the other.

It never really feels like my experiences of going home match up to those of others around me

For me, the two have always been something separate. The nationality my passport assigns me doesn’t match the birth place listed on it, the state it was issued in or the country I currently live in. So I decided not to force myself into a box and simply not define what home means to me. That strategy worked well for me up until I got to Cambridge – where the concept of “home” seemed to have taken on new significance.

There was always the inevitable question (asked immediately after the subject and college exchange), “So where are you from?”, to all the talk about going back home that starts about a week before every term break, presumably because the one thing everyone had in common was being away from home. Whether that meant a 10-minute bus ride or an 11-hour flight, the topic seemed to be on everyone’s mind. Suddenly being confronted with that question I had avoided for most of my life forced me to explore my own personal version of homesickness – or rather the lack thereof – and what that meant for my feelings and emotions regarding the concept of home.

My family moved from Hong Kong to Switzerland shortly after I graduated high school. On the one hand, that gave me a clean cut and I wasn’t confronted with the home I had left behind or forced to go through the experience of saying goodbye every break. But it also meant that my experience of going home consisted of living in a new apartment in a foreign city where I didn’t know anyone.

Cambridge and home aren’t two entirely independent parts of your life that have nothing to do with each other

Flying 'home' to that unfamiliarity at the end of term has had some of the experiences that the traditional going home from uni might entail: reuniting and living with your family again; feeling totally comfortable and at ease; not having to worry about cooking for yourself or doing your own grocery shopping. Yet it lacks that distinct sense of familiarity that comes with staying in the room you grew up in or seeing the friends you went to high school with again. When a term draws to a close, I’m as excited as anyone else to see my parents again and escape the hustle and bustle of Cambridge for a bit.

Yet somehow it never really feels like my experiences of going home match up to those of others around me. Sometimes that makes me wonder, if it isn’t just my understanding of home which is different but my experience of Cambridge as a whole. Cambridge and home aren’t two entirely independent parts of your life that have nothing to do with each other. Whether your time at Cambridge is tainted by your homesickness or you feel exhausted for the first few weeks back at home, the two influence each other and inevitably your experience at home has an effect on your time at Cambridge, and vice versa.

Isn’t being surrounded by the people you consider your family such an integral part of what the concept of home is defined as?

I occasionally catch myself saying that Cambridge has become home for me and going to Switzerland is more about being with my family. But isn’t being surrounded by the people you consider your family such an integral part of what the concept of home is defined as? In a way both Cambridge and Switzerland contribute to and create a unique sense of home together: Cambridge offers me a sense of stability in knowing that I have a place I can return to for the next 2 years, whereas living with my family gives me a feeling of deep understanding and familiarity. When it comes to “going home over break”, I choose to focus on the idea of getting a break – a break from work, ‘adulting’ and Cambridge as a whole – instead of obsessing over how unfamiliar home can sometimes feel.


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From Zimbabwe to Stamford

There’s a common assumption of what going home over break should feel like in Cambridge. Maybe this is because it’s something everyone can relate to, or maybe because it provides a sense of stability in the whirlwind of an eight-week term. While that assumption might not correspond to my personal experience of term breaks, they are still a time of relaxation, comfort and slowing down. Whatever home may look like, it’s comforting above anything else to know that homecoming doesn’t just have to be about the posters you put up as a teenager or the garden you played in as a child, but can simply be created by the feeling of complete acceptance and sense of belonging.

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