Defining “Home”

by Teagan, Civic Semester Participant

As a child of a big family, “the second oldest of six” is my most used epithet. I grew up in a house overflowing with laughter, and I learned from a young age the value of collectivism and cooperation. I never imagined a dinner table with less than eight chairs or a life in which I didn’t share a bedroom.

That is until this weekend.

When I was accepted into Tufts, one of the first things I did was research study abroad programs. As much as I love my family, I knew that I could not live in Medford for another four years of my life. I submitted my application to the Civic Semester, a program for students to study abroad during the Freshman fall, and before I could even blink, I was on a plane to Peru.

Since arriving on September 1st, time has flown by. In our home we call Rocafuerte, this group of strangers quietly transformed into a family during the “in-between” moments—making dinner crammed in the kitchen, logging onto Zoom for class, or sharing cups of tea while watching the Milky Way.

Last Saturday, we sat together facing twelve Peruvian host moms and dads dispersed among our suitcases and duffle bags. We squeezed each other’s hands with nervous excitement as Pablo, one of our instructors, announced our future parent’s names.

At that moment, I felt nostalgic for the memories of a place I had called home for only two months. I couldn’t comprehend what I would do without waking up alongside Sophia or being a few steps away from Elaine’s dorm for our nightly “chisme.” We sat in a state of suspension, and I asked myself if I even had the right to call Rocafuerte “home.” I asked myself, when a place has such a strong impact, does it matter if you live there for two months or two decades?

As a second generation Medfordite (yes, a real term), I feel a little tinge of resentment every time a Tufts freshman calls Medford “home.” It’s not that I want to keep the city to myself, but Tufts students miss so much about the city’s rich and complicated history that can only be learned through stories of my mom’s childhood or shared experiences in Medford High School. Medford is so much more than Tufts. It is so much greater than the Hillside. And when Tufts students generalize, I feel as if my city is cheated out of its complex identity.

Pablo called my name, and I was brought back to the present. I looked up apprehensively as my Peru mom, Yaki, ran toward me with open arms. She smiled ear to ear, and we embraced in a hug. At my new house, I met my two “hermanitos,” Santiago and Gabriel (who immediately gave me the nickname “Snacks”). With them, I felt back at home with my own brothers, Cullen and Declan. I guess I had forgotten what it’s like living with boys who love roblox, wrestling, and doing anything to avoid putting the toilet seat down.

It has only been a few days, but I have been welcomed into the family of Yaki, Rafael, Santi, and Gabo. Just this weekend, we traveled to Cusco for trick-or-treating and our bisabuela’s birthday party, and event filled with karaoke, traditional dishes, and games of sapo. Gabriel, Santi, and I watch Netflix together after school under a new profile named “Tiguen” that they made. I realize how much I had missed home-cooked meals every time Yaki places a plate of pasta or egg frittata in front of me, and I smile every morning when I am woken up by the quiet voice of Gabo asking “Snacks, ¿puedo entrar?”

I was so nervous to leave my cohort—after two months in Rocafuerte—but, last night, as I laid in my very own bedroom for the first time in my life, I realized that nothing is as scary as I expect it to be. Knowing that my cohort is going through the same emotions as I am makes me feel less alone and intimidated by what lays ahead.

So yes, it has only been a week with my host family but I already feel at home. No matter how you define it, home is created by the people just as much as the place itself. Whether at Tisch Library or Tenoch in Medford Square, I hope that all Tufts students can find their own place in the city I am grateful to call home. And maybe we can value our chosen families just as much as we do those related by blood.