DIY: Building a Home without Walls
Coconut Girl

Santos Headshot_sketchHome is not what it used to be. This year, I made a new home on the Hilltop, came back to my childhood one and will soon fly to my homeland, the Philippines. Be it a dorm with friends, a town with family, an archipelago with a nation, what does it really mean to come home? In a world of blurred borders, where rootlessness is de rigueur and globalization rampant, hometown comfort proves much more about a grounded idea of home rather than the ground itself.

Diaspora communities around the world know more than anyone what it’s like to have a borderless home. They live in a disconnected connection, a paradox splashed across academic papers outlining imagined communities, transnational identities and global capitalism. Even in my whitewashed upbringing, I’ve witnessed the efforts of Fil-Ams to build bridges between two places, searching for home. For myself, it’s a bridge made of Filipino TV, Taglish, family gatherings and warm pandesal. For other Fil-Ams, their bridges back home are different. Maybe one built from balikbayan boxes, long-distance phone calls and Filipino school. But for all of us, it’s a bridge that not only connects distant places, but also reconstructs close spaces, creating figurative rather physical homes.

To put it differently, I’ve learned how a home is not a house and a house is not a home. It’s a well-founded cliché that rings true as I prepare to leave yet another house this summer. I ask myself if I’m really leaving one home for another or if I’m simply improving and expanding the one I already have. I’ve realized how a home is an intangible work-in-progress, something evolving rather than static. While a house may be the physical place you stay in, a home is the abstract space you dwell in and a space that dwells in you wherever you go.

Pico Iyer, author of The Art of Stillness, describes how in the face of globalization, home has more to do with where you’re going rather than where you’ve been. I argue for a mix of both. Your home should expand to new territories with respect to old ground. During my summer in the Philippines, I’m taking this to heart. I’ll let whatever ties I have to my homeland inform the new ones I hope to make.

Going to Manila to reconnect is like going back to the parts of the Philippines that already exist in my life, updating them with my summer experiences.

At college, I had to build an entirely new wing in my home, figuratively speaking, from scratch, with nothing but a 224 square-foot cell on a hill. Yet instead of “building a new home,” as most people like to say when they start university, in retrospect, I was working with whatever foundation I’d already laid out in suburban Philly, my hometown. Before, home meant a mini schnauzer and Saturday pancakes with the family. At Georgetown, it meant a bulldog and Leo’s brunch with the squad. Now, it’s all of those things and then some, with plenty of room left for what’s to come in Manila.

After eight months, Georgetown is one of the coziest rooms in my mental maison, despite the roadblocks in its construction. Now, with my trip to the Philippines, I’m excited to make Manila just as comfortable. While the decor of both rooms may be different and the physical distance between them great, they’re still part of the same home. We shouldn’t be afraid to build a house without borders and to make it a home that nourishes not only ourselves, but also those we happen to share it with.

Sarah Santos is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business. Coconut Girl appears every other Friday.

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