Everyone is familiar with the expression “Home sweet home,” but perhaps this sentiment leads to further questions: Where is home? What constitutes home? And how do you know once you’ve reached home? I always considered Elkhart, Indiana home since I was born there. But in my late twenties, I began feeling restless. Was I missing out? Was there a whole world waiting out there for me to discover? The only way to answer these questions was to go and find out for myself.
Since college, I had worked off and on in Chicago as a freelance designer, so I was familiar with the city and decided to set my sights on moving there and establishing a new life in an urban environment. I began to apartment hunt and one day while I was there I attended a panel discussion at the Merchandise Mart. I invited one of the panelists, Toma Clark Haines, to join me for drinks later that day, as I found her to be fun and wanted to hear more about her career. Clark Haines is founder and CEO of The Antiques Diva & Co, Europe’s largest antiques touring and sourcing company. We passed a lovely couple hours at RL-The Ralph Lauren Restaurant, discussing antiques, interior design, and life in general. Afterwards I went back to Elkhart and she returned to her home in Berlin, Germany.
A couple weeks later I received an email from Clark Haines asking if she could telephone me from Germany. When I received the call, she asked me a question I was not expecting at all. She asked if I would be interested in being a consultant for her company to help with branding, marketing, and social media management. This, of course, would require me to travel to Europe and experience from the ground up how the company operated in its eight countries. I would need to be willing to live in Europe for extended periods of time, often traveling to several different countries in the same week. Suffice it to say, I put my Chicago move on hold and decided to take this chance. I am so glad I did.
Over the last year I’ve traveled to six countries and met countless people from all walks of life. While I’ve enjoyed seeing beautiful places, it’s really the people I’ve met that have had the greatest impact on me. I’ve been fortunate enough to become friends with a British couple who have invited me to stay in their gorgeous flat in Berlin. In Paris, I spent a week with a lovely couple who own a cognac company, passing our evenings around their family dinner table. I’ve toured Versailles and enjoyed champagne lunches with an extremely talented and charming French jewelry designer who I now count as a friend. Another French couple invited me to a party at Les Puces, the Paris Flea Market, and also to their home for macaroons and wine. I spent a fantastic night out in Bath, UK with a group of young antiques dealers—we even went to a lock-in at a club—my first time experiencing that! I’ve been to art galleries and to see films with my Mexican friends in Berlin. I was lucky enough to meet a Venetian couple who lived in Berlin and they became some of my best friends, spending countless nights discussing art, history, life, and sharing lots of laughs.
Before living in Europe, I had this idea that Europeans would be so different from my fellow Americans. And while there are certainly cultural differences, I’ve learned a very important lesson through travel and that is this: We are all more alike than we are unalike. Of course there are varying ways in which people are raised. Every person comes to the table with a unique perspective on the world and a specific background which leads them to make individual judgements and choices. But after meeting so many people from several different countries and all types of backgrounds, I’ve learned that when it comes right down to it everyone wants the same thing: validation. We all want to understand and to be understood. Everyone is asking, “Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I’m saying mean anything to you?” Every person on the planet shares the desire to connect. When you share your stories, people can see themselves in you and you can see yourself in them. Time and attention are the greatest gifts we can give one another. People want to know if you are fully present or if you are distracted when you are with them.
Some people may have more impressive titles or be living in bigger houses, but at the core, we are all the same. We all want to fulfill our highest, truest expression of ourselves as human beings. This is the same in every culture.
Understanding this has helped me live a better life. Sharing stories and experiences with people from various cultural backgrounds has shown me that we can all utilize each others’ lessons. In “To Our Grandmothers,” Maya Angelou wrote, “I come as one, but I stand as 10,000.” When we open our lives to people who are different from us, we bring their experiences and knowledge with us as we go through life. Traveling is so important because it allows you to connect with people who are different from you. Going somewhere out of your comfort zone, even if it’s just the next town over, forces you to interact with new people and learn new things.
Another thing travel has taught me is that home is really just a state of mind. Traveling from city to city, not having friends nearby, and being unfamiliar with surroundings forces you to look inside yourself for comfort. You take pieces of your home with you wherever you go and eventually, home becomes any place you are. By allowing yourself to be fully present in each place, you pick up little things you like from people, places, and cultures along the way that are like threads which make up the tapestry of your life, and tapestries always tell a story. They have layers and symbolism. Experiences are the threads that make up the tapestry of your life. They tell your story.
Traveling to so many places has allowed me to see what I love about my home town. Whenever I am back in Michiana, I always exhale a sigh of relief. There’s something about the familiarity of a place that is comforting and soothing. But I know that any time I leave, I take a piece of that place with me because home truly is where the heart is.
Today I fly back to the USA from Berlin. I'll be spending the summer in the states, catching up with friends & family. I'll also be working on building professional relationships so I can take my brand/company to the next level. I'm excited to use the experiences I've gained from the last couple years. I don't know what the future holds, but I'm learning to find joy in the journey. Won't you join me?