As a child of a big family, “the second oldest of six” is one of my most used epithets. 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 bedroom without a set of bunkbeds.
That is until this weekend.
When I was accepted into Tufts, the first thing 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 Freshman fall, and before I could even blink, I was on a plane to Peru.
Last Saturday, dispersed among our suitcases, our cohort sat together facing twelve Peruvian host moms and dads. We squeezed each other’s hands with nervous excitement as Pablo, one of our instructors, announced our future parent’s names. We were already 2/3rds done with our program, and homestays were about to begin.
At that moment, I felt nostalgic for Rocafuerte, the place we had called home. Even more than the open air kitchen and the vibrant flowers in the yard, I knew that what I would miss the most was living with my cohort. At Rocafuerte, this group of strangers transformed into a family during the “in-between’s.” We showed our love for each other in the quiet moments of cutting vegetables for fried rice or sharing cups of tea while watching clouds pass over the Milky Way. Even though we had only lived in this home for two months, I couldn't remember what life was like without waking up alongside Sophia or only ever being a few steps away from Elaine’s dorm for impromptu movie nights.
As we sat in a state of suspension, I reminisced on these months and asked myself if I even had the right to call Rocafuerte “home.” Is “home” a title that someone has to “earn”? Is there a minimum amount of time or a quota of some sort before you can claim stake? Am I entitled to calling this place my home even if I have the intention of leaving so soon?
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 from past generations or shared experiences in Medford High. 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. Is that how people of Urubamba feel at the constant cycle of tourists coming and going on the way to Machu Picchu? How much more history and culture of this city am I missing? And how do I avoid becoming the very narrative that I seek to change?
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 8 and 6 year old “hermanitos,” Santiago and Gabriel (who immediately gave me the nickname "Snacks"). With them, I felt like I was back at my home in Medford with my own brothers, Cullen and Declan. I guess I had forgotten what it's like living with boys in which roblox and wrestling are second nature.
It has only been a few days, but I have been welcomed into my new family. Just this weekend, we traveled to Cusco for Halloween and afterwards, our bisabuela’s birthday party where I was greeted by every family member with a hug as if I was another one of the grandkids. Next to their own profiles, Gabriel, Santi, and I watch Netflix together after school under the account of “Tiguen,” and they teach me how to draw minions or solve Rubik's Cubes. As I’m adapting to my new life, so many things here are different and so many things here are the same as my family-family. Nonetheless, I smile every morning when I am woken up by the quiet voice of Gabo asking “Snacks, ¿puedo entrar?”
So yes, it has only been a week with my host family but I already feel at home. I still don’t know how to balance being a tourist and a student in a place where neither are common. And I'm still searching for remedies for the pre-emptive nostalgia I feel for this place I've made home. What I have learned in the past month or so is that 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 I hope that one day in the future I’ll be able to return to my home in Urubamba.
Photo Credit: Teagan Mustone