Where should I call home?

Personal reflections on international students and liminality

What is home? Where is home? Personally, my definition of home as an international student residing in Canada has evolved in the last couple of years.

In the past, it’s been difficult for me to put into words how being an international student has changed this definition.

It has become clear that although I currently reside in Canada, I am emotionally and mentally in a place of transition — I am in a liminal mental state between Canada and my hometown of Lagos, Nigeria.

Many international students can relate to this feeling.

There is a difference between one’s home country compared to international students’ Canadian home.

Being split between two places that you have established distinct but equally important roles in can make one feel lost in transition.

Frank McAndrew, a psychology professor at Knox College, has defined home as the place where you feel most in control and in line with your surroundings and schedule. Liminality, on the other hand, is defined as a transitional period.

When I think of liminality, I remember artwork I saw several years ago by Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze, a Brooklyn-based Nigerian-British artist famous for art which focuses on cultural hybridity. The message from the work was based on Amanze’s inability to identify any particular space as home.

This has influenced my reflection — what were the qualities and features of my home in Lagos compared to Winnipeg?

Growing up, I primarily defined home through the familiarity and family that I found and fostered in Lagos.

Most of my relationships were formed and solidified there. Every niche — the good and the bad, its ins and outs, the streets, struggles, the beauty, the slums, the mystery — it all contributed to my definition of home.

The fact that I was born and bred in Lagos plays a huge role in my calling it home, though every year I spend away makes it feel more alien.

People have changed and family has grown — over the course of the five years I’ve spent away from Lagos, even my parents have, to a large degree, become new people.

This is a reality many international students have to face — the geographical distance that separates us from our birthplace can also cause rifts in our ability to principally feel home.

My history and the comfort I find in my home in Lagos teases my ability to affirm my place presently.

Although I am physically present in Winnipeg, I am mentally stuck between my past space and my present one.

So, what about Winnipeg? What qualifies it as home?

To me, Winnipeg is a place of empowerment. It is the place I find solace after a long day at work or school. It is the place where I reset.

Although I am also surrounded by family here, it does not have the same feeling family in Lagos provides.

To an extent, this has solidified a base sense of familiarity, but it stops there.

Not being able to commit to these spaces makes international students like me liminal in a sense.

When the space where one is born in is so far away geographically and mentally in relation to their temporary resident status, it makes home a difficult thing to determine.

There is a certain stigma that accompanies international students that reminds them that they are visitors.

Although for many international students the goal is to become a citizen at some point, for most, that reality hasn’t been fully set in stone. The long road to full citizenship status produces an unease and apprehension when it comes to defining their current space as home.

The long question that I have been ruminating over is whether I can pick one space. Personally, I do not think so. At least not easily. Embedding yourself in a space requires a foundation of legitimacy that is found in citizenship.

It is a long journey to committing to Canada as home, but it’s also difficult to let go of Lagos. I think a lot of international students can relate to this uncertainty.

I hope we call all find a space to hold on to.