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Expat Life: Feeling Like Home

When I scheduled this post, as I thought it was long overdue, I still didn’t really know what I was going to say. Feeling like home when you move away is such an important thing and I didn’t know where to begin.

Well, let’s start at the beginning I guess.

In 2012, I got into my first choice programme for graduate school. “Dear Camila, I’m delighted to advise that your application for Mlitt study at St Andrews has been accepted by the School of English…”  So much excitement! I had always dreamed of visiting/living in the UK (and basically attend Hogwarts, which St Andrews totally resembles) and here was my opportunity to make my dream come true. For the months going up to my move, I lived off that excitement. It was only about a week before my departure that I realised the price to pay for my dream.

I read once that the difficulty of leaving is the price to pay to have the opportunity to arrive somewhere else. Leaving was/is hard. I was – after all – about to leave my parents, friends, etc. my entire world for a place I didn’t know and where I didn’t know anyone. It sounds a bit crazy in retrospect. Leaving always sounds crazy…but we have to do it in order to arrive. I lived through that difficult phase of saying goodbye to everyone by having my eyes on the prize (ie my future Hogwarts life).

When I arrived in my new flat, which was to be my new home, I had a moment. A moment when I sat at the kitchen table, alone, looking around the bland white walls of the room and wondered why I had done this? Questioning what I was really after when I jumped at the chance to leave everything and everyone. For half a second I even regretted my decision. It was the one and only moment I doubted my move. Most of it was erased that same evening as I met my flatmate and spent time with my neighbours, all fellow students. The moment was quickly forgotten.

When I came home that night, I quickly realised that what had made me feel that way was how very unwelcoming my flat felt. The flat was nice, but plain and empty. With its oh so beige counters, tables, desks, doors, its bare white walls and weirdly blue carpet. This was my room for example. It all felt sterile. I understood why it was that way, but had trouble imagining it ever being different, ever feeling like it was my own space. It’s hard to even look at this picture and imagine it feeling like home.


I then came to the conclusion that the first step in order to make this place feel more like home was to personalise it (and get linens…). Obvious conclusion I know, but necessary nonetheless. I unpacked my suitcases and started to arrange my room as I wanted it. It became a bit more messy and a lot more me.

The first thing I did was to order a fuchsia duvet cover. I felt like a little girl (because it was probably a child’s item but anyhow), but with just that detail my room already looked completely different. Just add piles of books everywhere, a colourful alarm clock, and a completely covered post board. I felt it was already a step in the right direction.

The splash of colour was what I needed to be in a happier mood in the morning, and the mess made it feel like I owned the space more and more everyday (because it did get messier everyday). Every detail added character, colour and a personal touch to the room where I was going to spend most of my time studying, sleeping, Skyping, etc.

The post board was my mirror of home and became a board of inspiration with posters, letters, cards, pictures and countless bits of memorabilia from home and away.  Yes that’s my Hogwarts letter and yes I’m a bit obsessed with Feminist Ryan Gosling.


This was my desk. Doesn’t it just look like I own the space? #GradSchoolProblems …oh wait hashtags don’t work on here, nevermind…

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So I guess this was all to say that I came to the obvious conclusion that the first step to take once you move abroad (or simply to a new place) is to try and make the place where you will be living feel like home. I started by buying a few things to make this new home feel more personal and reflect what I wanted it to mean to me. A bedroom needs to be cosy. A desk space needs to be useful and practical. A bathroom to be neat and warm. A kitchen to be fun to be able to cook and bake at my heart’s (read: stomach’s) desire. It took a bit of work, but by the end of the year it was home and leaving ended up being a lot harder than I ever expected it to be.

Also you want to know a secret? You know the one thing that made me feel really really at home? A toothbrush holder. Travelling a lot has made me realise that I only feel at home when my toothbrush as a place. I’m not just the one hanging on the side of the sink or the one that always falls off next to the holder for everyone else’s toothbrush. Home is where my toothbrush belongs.

Happy Saturday! xx

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