Outside term time, I live approximately 20 minutes away from Paris by train. My home town is also nestled between the historical and cultural towns of Versailles and St-Germain-en-Laye. Both of these have beautiful chateaux, which the French Royal family used to call their home. The immediate neighbouring town is populated by rich, elderly couples whose houses resemble small chateaux, whilst another neighbouring town was the source of inspiration for many artistes of the Impressionism movement. So, objectively, my home town is not as picturesque or charming as the ones that surround it. Subjectively, it the most beautiful.
Before moving to university, I had always lived in one place. My family’s last move consisted of settling into a home two houses down the street from the previous one. Despite never having experienced it myself, I always strongly pitied friends who had to move a long distance away; not just because they would be far from their friends, but also because they would be far from the place, they had called home.
My parents often thought it funny that I was always happy to stay home during the summer holidays and I was never as desperate as my sisters to go away somewhere. I loved my home town and as a child I would always declare it as the most beautiful place to live. Now aged 20, I realise my home town is objectively not as beautiful as I made it out to be. But at the end of Michaelmas term in first year, I found myself profoundly missing it. I was excited to see my family and friends, but I was also so happy to be returning to the town I had lived in for almost 16 years, the town that until I left for university featured in most of my memories. Because that is what makes my home town truly special; every street held a memory, and every corner was familiar. It was, at the time, the place I felt most comfortable being in.
Durham was not yet my home, whilst the town back in France continued to feel like home even when I was away. As students, we regularly travel between our family house and our accommodation in Durham, making it difficult to know where home truly is. One suggestion is that home is “where the heart is”, the place that you hold the most affection for.
I hold strong affection for Durham, but not as deep affection as I do for my home town. I could attribute this to Covid; in first year my Easter holidays and third term were spent back in France. In my second year, I spent most of my time in my student house, anxious about the health situation and unable to properly enjoy Durham. However, its greater familiarity and the comfort it provides are the real reasons why I hold a stronger affection for my home town.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this competing affection between Durham and my home town. The hesitation I notice in other students to call Durham home is testament to this. It is instinctive for us to say that we are going home at the end of term, but when it comes to heading back to Durham, the terms that I hear are the formal ones of ‘house’ or ‘flat’.
For me, Durham continues to become more home-like for me, especially now that restrictions have lifted. I don’t think I could have considered Durham my home back in Michaelmas of my first year, with everything being so new and exhaustingly fun. If any of you reading are first years, I encourage you to rest well during the coming holidays as you will find that your energy will need restoring. That first term of university life is less than restful, but with time Durham has become more familiar and a place in which I have settled in.
Even as a third year, I continue to think of the place where I grew up surrounded by my family and friends with a lot of affection. I realise that once my parents and my friends’ parents move away, my home town will become less familiar and its beauty will begin to seep away. It already has. Regardless, I will never love Durham as much as I have and continue to love my home town. But I don’t think this matters. Durham is still a place I enjoy living in and where I have made many good memories.
Durham is my home, and so is my home town. I am happy for the moment to say that I have two homes. Although once I graduate, Durham will lose this title, I will remember it as the first place that offered me the opportunity to call it home as an adult and that made me realise the importance of making the place you live in a home. How long will I continue to call my hometown home, I do not know. I don’t think I am quite prepared for when I will stop calling it by that name and the waves of nostalgia that will ensue. It will however always be the first place I chose to call home.