I’ve always been a homebody. I grew up in Falmouth, Maine and coincidentally decided to go to school just thirty minutes up the road in Brunswick. To some folks, my college decision seemed crazy. Why go to school so close? Don’t you want to get out of there? To answer these questions, I’ve always ended up giving some long-winded explanation about how I’ve managed to make Bowdoin feel as far away or close to home as I’ve wanted. But in reality, I just love Maine, my town and my family—it wasn’t a place I wanted to leave just yet.
With the whirlwind of schoolwork, club activities and social events at Bowdoin, I hardly ever take the 30-minute drive to Falmouth. But the ability to go home, or have my parents and sister come up has always been readily accessible. Unlike most college students, I have had the privilege of rarely feeling homesick—and until I travelled abroad I didn’t understand how fortunate I am.
This past July, the security and comfort I had consistently felt at Bowdoin and in Falmouth were taken from me. I embarked on a five month journey to the South Island of New Zealand for a semester abroad. On June 28, I checked my bags at Boston Logan Airport and left on my 48-hour voyage to New Zealand with tears in my eyes as I said goodbye to my family.
It felt weird. Unpacking, that is. I lugged my suitcases down the stairs of my new home in Dunedin and ripped open my bags that were bursting at the seams. Something about taking my belongings out of my suitcase and putting them in these new spaces felt wrong. When I moved into Bowdoin the process was a celebration. Bowdoin welcomes all its first years with open arms and excitement. That was the only move-in I knew. For the first time, I found myself entirely on my own—there was no “meet the parents” or orientation trip to look forward to.
I lived in an apartment, which natives to the island (known as kiwis) call a flat, where I had my own room with a full-sized bed. I shared the flat with three other students, one of whom was a kiwi in graduate school. My bed sheets were brown and my carpet was a burnt, unsettling red, much like the couches first years at Bowdoin have in their dorms. Not only was the decor cold and uninviting, but I also hadn’t brought anything to put on my walls—my suitcases were filled to the brim and the astronomical fees associated with travelling abroad made space and weight precious. I felt uneasy. In that moment, all I wanted was to call my mom and ask her to come up for dinner. Instead, I slumped into my brown sheets and for the first time in my college career, I was truly homesick.
My feelings started to change when three other friends and I purchased a 1998 Toyota Caldina. This car allowed us freedom to explore. No longer were we stuck in the boundaries of Dunedin. We went from the East Coast to the West Coast, studying the differing, yet magnificent landscapes. We camped in caves where little blue penguins lived, on the shores of glacial lakes and in huts overlooking the Southern Alps. Along these many adventures we met a host of new people—fire spinners, retired grandparents who enjoy hiking and silly ski patrol staff members.
With each excursion we set out on, I began laying my roots in these unique places and experiences. Home was no longer defined by a familiar and comfortable living space, but instead by the people with whom I was sharing these new and exciting trips. The discomfort of my flat faded into the background as it became a place I used for sleeping and storing my belongings—nothing more.
Having arrived back in Maine, my true home by definition, five months later, I now understand home is a lot of things. Home isn’t just a physical place where my family and I reside. Home isn’t just the ability for family to come up to school on the weekends. Home is so much more than that. Home is my happy place. It is the things, the places and the people that have brought me true elation. Home keeps me grounded and sane. Home makes me feel safe and comfortable. Whether it be the Southern Alps of New Zealand or our little cottage in Falmouth, home to me now extends its boundaries to many different places and people throughout the world.
Hannah Donovan is a member of the Class of 2020.