On paper, I’m a Jersey girl: born in New Jersey, raised in New Jersey, and educated in New Jersey—from kindergarten all the way through college. On paper, New Jersey should be my home. But as we all learn in life, things are not always as they seem. Despite knowing nothing but a life in New Jersey throughout my entire youth, that feeling of comfort you get from your surroundings never made it much past the time I spent with family. If you asked me one year ago what it felt like to be “home,” I wouldn’t have a good answer, as I always thought home would be a physical place in which I had a sense of belonging. Today, if you asked me the same question, I would have a great answer—an answer that I found in the most unexpected of places: perspiring, fatigued and packed like a sardine inside a ramshackle train in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The commute between my university and my center-city apartment was one of the most uniquely challenging and revelatory experiences during my time studying abroad. Every day I watched the inimitable blend of the city’s vibrant culture and devastating poverty pass by through the murky windowpane, reflecting on how my sheltered beginnings had brought me to such a place. A one-legged man in tattered clothing hobbled toward me asking for spare change. A teenage mother whose eyes spoke of sorrow struggled to stay awake, praying for a better tomorrow yet rejoicing for the loving son in her arms. And although I stood alone among these different walks of life, clearly an outsider with pasty white skin, there was not a single moment that I felt lonely. I shared laughter with a toothless laborer, giving strength to his legs that wanted to buckle after a hard day’s work. I witnessed genuine gratitude when the teenage mother offered the one-legged man her seat. And although I was physically uncomfortable, shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers and my wiry figure pinned against the train’s plastic walls, I found tranquility amid chaos, and finally discovered that home might not have to be a place at all.
Now I wouldn’t say that this hectic train ride is how I define home, but it did help me realize that what I once considered a place is more of a state of mind. It’s that state where we feel comfortable not with our surroundings, but rather with ourselves—despite all differences. On this train nothing mattered; age, disability, race, and nationality were pushed to the side, replaced with genuine humanity. And although these conditions are something that can’t be reproduced everywhere, we can all do our best to bring a little bit of home to everywhere we go.