Carly Allard, 129 YinD
Not long ago, one of my students asked me about the difference between “house” and “home”. I realized it was a completely valid question and an obvious source of confusion for an English language learner. As I struggled to explain that both words sometimes mean the same thing but can’t necessarily be used interchangeably, a look of sheer puzzlement crossed the student’s face.
I myself was a little confused after trying to explain the scenario, first in simple English and then in broken Thai. That didn’t help. Eventually, I settled on a definition of home being a feeling of comfort, safety, and love with the people you share a house with, whereas a house is simply a building you live in. Just as I was finishing the confusing-for-everyone-involved explanation, something seemed to stand out: the people.
As I continued to think about my botched teaching moment after class was over, I realized my “home” in Thailand has little to do with the structure in which I reside. The walls and very sturdy door of my bedroom provide the space and privacy I’ve needed during the last 18 months. The living room and kitchen of my host family’s house serve as great spaces to share with one another. My bathroom, with its Western toilet AND shower heater (not to mention the shower head), is a comfort I didn’t realize I’d be thankful for. But those are house things, not home things.
The home things are my host dad teaching me how to make my favorite Thai dishes in our kitchen. They are my host mom handing me a vegetable peeler or knife to help with dinner prep as we chat about our day at work. They’re my ten-year-old host sister barging into my room in her pajamas for a quick “joop-joop” (kiss-kiss) on the cheek before bed. Home things happen when Yai (grandma) leaves a new bottle of honey on the counter the morning after I mentioned wanting to buy some. They happen when Dtah (grandpa) moves my drying laundry out of the pouring rain.
My sense of home in Thailand is directly correlated to the people I love and share special moments with, both within and beyond the gate of my family’s compound. I feel a sense of home as I walk up to my schools and enter a classroom of familiar, smiling faces. Week after week, innumerable shouts of “teacher CARLY!” as I am spotted around town make me feel at home, like I’m right where I’m meant to be. I feel at home when I am included in lunch conversations with my coworkers or invited for a Sunday afternoon swim at the local pool.
Home moments may not necessarily happen within the boundaries of my site either, but rather have taken place in hotels, hostels, and Airbnb’s throughout Thailand. I’ve shared moments and feelings of home with my fellow PCVs, the strangers who’ve now become family, since we arrived in Thailand. The feelings of truly being at home with these people have come to me over a homemade Thanksgiving dinner, during a three-hour ride in crowded a songtao, among laughs during a girl’s night out, or with the ping of glasses cheers-ing at a birthday dinner. They are times when I feel truly happy, safe, and loved. They’re times when I feel at home.
They say home is where the heart is, but sometimes, as Peace Corps volunteer, I feel a little bit conflicted about where to call home. Is home in Wisconsin where my parents are? Is it America or is it Thailand? I’ve decided that, as they say, home is where the heart is. But home is also where the people who make your heart sing are. And that can absolutely be more than one place. Home is a feeling of love, acceptance, belonging, understanding, and comfort. Home is whenever, wherever I am with people who love me, support me, and challenge me to be the best version of me I can be. To all those people – family, friends, fellow PCVs, everyone at site – home truly is whenever I’m with you.