Thursday, December 20, 2012

Where are you from?

Where are you from?

This simple question has no simple answer. Is it where you are currently living? Where you were born? This question is increasingly complex for people to answer, as careers, families, and life take people from one place to another, to settle in a foreign place, or continue moving constantly.

Where are you from? is a common question amongst travelers. We have several responses that vary in depth, depending on how much we want to go on.

The basic - I'm from the states and my husband is Swedish.

Just a little more - ...and we live in Germany right now.

All the details - ....and we will be living in Amsterdam when we get back.

Sometimes Simon chimes in, and his response is clearly Germany. So here you have one family, 3 different members, and they each identify as being from 3 different countries.

So where is home? What defines home? This is a good question for the Oppenwig family.

I remember the first time I really considered the concept of home. Martin and I were living in Louisville, Kentucky and I was working a Kentucky Refugee Ministries, a refugee resettlement agency. Every year on June 20, the United Nations celebrates World Refugee Day to honor refugees around the world. And that first year, it must have been 2004, the theme was home. Part of my job was to teach citizenship classes for refugees preparing to become U.S. citizens. So I asked them, where is home for you?

I can't imagine a harder question for a group of people that were forced to leave their homes and lives behind, because staying would be far worse. They then resettle in a completely new country with a new language and culture, in search of safety and hope. As they were preparing to take this next step to become U.S. citizens, many considered the U.S. home. It wasn't where they were from, but it was where they now belonged. They were raising their children in America, never mind the lives they left behind. Those lives were painfully gone. Home was the United States.

For me, the word home is fluid. When I am getting ready for a trip to Minnesota to visit my family, I am without doubt going home. But I also have a family of my own now, and, cue the sappy music, they are my other home. Home is not always defined by a space or a place. For some it is, but for many I know that's just part of the larger concept.

I always feel at home with these guys around.
Just like for refugees who now call the U.S. home, safety and hope are important elements of home for all of us. It's as much a feeling, a sense of security, of belonging, that defines home. That's why when we are homesick, we conjure up images of places, people, and smells that give us those warm fuzzy feelings. Home can be many places all at once. I know it is for me.

I will always be from Minnesota. But home? Well, it's always with me.

Check out how other traveling families conceptualize home. (Technical difficulties, will update soon.)

Bohemian Travelers: Home is Everywhere

Nomadic Family: I Hate Home, and That One, and That One

Flashpacker Family: My Heart Doesn't Lie At Home

A Lifechanging Year: I Never Thought We'd be Home for Christmas

A Minor Diversion: A Minor Diversion Comes Home

Grow in Grace Life: Home...Where Ever We Are, There We Are

Witness Humanity: Things I Will Miss About Home..

Discover. Share. Inspire: How to Always be Home for the Holidays

The Barefoot Nomad: Where's Home for a Barefoot Nomad?

Gypseekers: Are we home yet? Re-entering society after a round-the-world adventure.

Expat Experiment: Traveling Home



  1. Beautiful words and so true!!!! As I said in my last mail to you:)! Wish you all a merry Christmas whereever you celebrate!! We travell to Vienna tomorrow (home) and then to Klagenfurt on Sunday (agian home):)! Hugs and miss you!!! Eva

  2. So true! It does get a little confusing. And even more so with Rita as I found out she tells people she is from London... Great post. Makes you think a little more about the word Home.

  3. We get that question a lot -- "Where are you from?" -- and we're still not sure how to answer it.

    Often my husband will mention the last place we lived in the U.S... but although it seems odd, I don't feel like I'm 'from' anywhere. I've lived lots of places, and they've helped to form who I am...

    Thought provoking :)


  4. As a family that travels a lot, and moves around within our home country to boot, I'm starting to dread the "Where are you from?" question. I'm starting to feel a bit like a dolt when I stammer and hesitate :).

    Great post!

  5. Interesting post, and something I struggle with. We are on our second RTW, this one permanent, and we hope to settle somewhere in Asia next year. People always ask, where are we from? I usually answer the US, but then people ask where in the US. My answer, we last lived in Washington, DC. But, that was only 2 years, before that a year of travel, before that 5 years in Chicago. We were both raised in NJ, but have not lived there since 1999. Sometimes I answer that we are from DC, Chicago, and NJ. Home for us is really wherever we are living together at the time!

  6. When I was younger and my family was visiting London, my father told us to say, when anyone asked where we were from, to say "Florida", (even though we were most recently from New York" He supposed that most Europeans did not like New Yorkers . And just like you all, I have called many places home, so it is hard to answer simply.
    And like you, we recently met about 17 refugees from Bhutan/Nepal when they came to our home for Thanskgiving. I was so humbled when I realized how happy and content they were after having such an unintended and forced upon transition in life.
    Thanks for you nice article. Susan

  7. I love that..."home is always with me"! I totally agree!

  8. Oh we had problems with this question this last year! Myself and my kids are from Australia. My husband is Danish and has lived in Australia for 15 years. Every time we were asked where we were from we all answered Australia! About 6 months in I started to wonder if Gert shouldn't be saying Denmark! And in our last few weeks a lovely Malaysian gentleman wanted to know why Gert sounded like Arnold Schwarzenegger!! We've stuck with Australia though - it's our easiest option!!! Nice, thought provoking post!

  9. i love how you put this together, intertwining the history of your parents to their new home, to all the shades and textures and sounds that make you who you are, and define home for you. lovely. thank you. i am also the child of immigrants, i know. it's lovely, lovely. thank you. and i like " Home can be many places all at once. I know it is for me.I will always be from Minnesota. But home? Well, it's always with me." looking forward to reading more.
    gabi, the nomadic family
    ps: my link is-

    1. thanks gabi! getting back to these responses a bit late...i have been following you guys a bit as well. we are have a new "home" now in continues!

  10. I love your post...yes...home is always with me! We hate the dreaded "where are you from?" question. It's never easy to answer...and it seems the less we reveal, the easier it all is! But then I feel like we're lying. But do we seriously need to share our whole lives with strangers?

    For now my husband and I both answer which states we are from (Kansas and Washington). Forget the fact that I haven't lived in Kansas for nearly 13 years! Hahaaa!

    Did you have a problem with our link, as well? Let us know!