This morning I received a message from my 18-year-old daughter who is currently partying away at the Full Moon Party in Thailand. "I think I'll be ready to come home in a few weeks, I miss you and I love you."
It has been six weeks. She has only been away from home for a week once before on a school trip. Initially, I worried that she wasn't enjoying herself to the full. Surely she must want to stay away longer. I went backpacking around the world for 7 months when I was 18. I came back for a week and then went away again. I have no recollections of missing home or my mum. But then my attachment to my own mum was broken aged 11 and I never felt I had a home to miss. I am not seeking sympathy but acknowledging how our childhood experiences at Boarding School can shape us and our attachments to our parents, friends, and home.
I had some wonderful times travelling aged 18 and continued along that path for much of my twenties. I'd often let out a sigh of relief as the plane took off from the UK and I was off to some far away place. India, the Philippines, Guatemala.... The further away the better. It was there I found people whom I could relate to. I fitted in. Fellow travellers, who were rootless and made their home wherever they lay their heads at night.
With my work with ex-boarders, I have often noticed a similar pattern with regards travel and how many choose to make their life abroad. I wonder if they also feel more at home in a foreign land than in the country they spent their childhood in. It is very hard to feel any sense of allegiance to a place when you spend most of the year captive in a boarding school, which has its own lifestyle and rules, isolated from the rest of society.
When you do go "home" in the holidays, you are often isolated again as your friends are at school, so doing the activities that other teenagers may get up to are not available to you. Perhaps moving abroad and living in exile as such is a familiar feeling. Possibly more comfortable than integrating into a society that you may have felt like an outsider in since that first day at school and you crossed that threshold. Being asked "Where are you from?" can often feel hard to answer for ex-boarders. I have often replied, " My mum is from...." I don't feel I am from anywhere.
What makes a home?
Is it familiarity, walking the same route to school, popping into the same sweet shop on the way home, hanging out in the local shopping centre? Getting annoyed by your siblings borrowing your clothes. arguing with your parents. the traditional milestone events - birthdays, bonfire night.....
When I went travelling aged 18, I was so proud of my independence, resilience, and how I didn't need comfort or parents by my side. I would have probably sneered at someone like my daughter for demonstrating signs of homesickness and a desire to see her mum and be back in her hometown. Yet, today I feel very differently. She is confident enough to explore the world, to express her feelings and has a home that she wants to return to. She has a sense of belonging to the city of Brighton, to her friends, to her siblings, to her parents and she misses that. It is a feeling I find hard to relate to, although out of a desire to provide this for my own children, I feel I have come as close as I can to feeling that Brighton is also now my hometown.
Although I do recall a comedian once stating that it was a city full of outsiders running as far away as they could to the edge of the UK without getting to France....
So maybe it isn't such a surprise I have chosen this town to be my home after all.