On Finding and Creating a Home

Three months ago I was on board a cargo freighter, en route from England back to the United States. Yesterday I finished unpacking in my new home in Portland, Oregon. 

 Geographic freedom will probably always bring me back to the Oregon coast. Glorious!

Geographic freedom will probably always bring me back to the Oregon coast. Glorious!

Our generation of college students and young graduates has more geographic freedom and career flexibility than anyone has ever had before. This is incredibly lucky, but often leads to a serious sense of anxiety over whether we’re making the right decisions and heading toward satisfying, successful futures. At the moment, I’m choosing to concentrate on finding a home and community that feels like it’s mine: a place that's right for me where I can do the most and be at my best.

This is what we choose when we pick a college, and what we have to do all over again when we graduate (and probably several times after that). It’s not selfish and it’s not aimless to try to get to the right place. And it requires a balance of factors that are at once exhausting and uplifting: where will I be happy? Where will I find ‘my tribe’ of people? Where can I find the best and most satisfying work opportunities? Where can I make the most difference?

As I wrote about in “Knowing When It’s Time to Go,” I had reached the end of my time in Ireland, and as wonderful as my experiences there had been, I felt I needed to get back to the US.  Specifically to the Pacific Northwest. I have never been busier or happier or more connected to a community than I was during my years at the University of Oregon in Eugene. So, just like I did when I first moved to Oregon, I decided to uproot my life and head to a land of heavy rain and big trees.

Moving Halfway Around the World 

It's a long way from Ireland to Oregon, and I did almost the whole darn trip at ground level 

 The view of 3,000 containers on board the freighter. 

The view of 3,000 containers on board the freighter. 

The freighter trip was an odd experience—a large part of my motivation for traveling that way was to have a kind of buffer time between Ireland and everything that would come next. It was eleven days of ocean vistas and solitude. I was the only passenger (and the only woman) on board. I watched the water. I read books. I wrote. I rested. I ate meals with the crew, and talked a bit. I watched the water some more.

There was no wifi and no phone reception. For eleven days my primary existence was a solitary one.

The time since then has been a complete whirlwind. I landed in Chester, Pennsylvania, just a 30 minute drive from where one of my best undergrad friends is doing an art conservation master’s degree. She re-socialized me and I got my land legs back before visiting other friends in DC and Baltimore. I then took a train to Minnesota, where I visited my grandmother for the first time in far too long.

At that point, after over 3,000 miles of travel by land and sea, I finally got on a plane to head back to my Colorado hometown.

I thought a lot during those long travel days. I reflected on my community and the fact that people I know and love are now scattered across the world and engaged in amazing post-university jobs and activities. It’s incredible to reconnect with someone I last saw at graduation and to hear about her work in national government activities. Or to see how a master’s degree is setting another friend up for a dream career. My closest friends have scattered to the four corners of the world (I even have a childhood friend in Antarctica), but by nurturing those connections I now have couches to sleep on almost anywhere I could choose to visit. And that’s a further inspiration to pursue and maintain the kinds of college friendships I was lucky enough to have.

 All my worldly possessions crammed into the car, ready for the 19 hour drive. 

All my worldly possessions crammed into the car, ready for the 19 hour drive. 

Another big take-away from the trip was falling further in love with podcasts and diving into the reading of classic literature and academic writing. As you can see in my Book List, I did quite a lot of reading on the high seas. When I wasn't reading, I listened to podcasts almost non-stop (including binge-listening to Serial). There is so much exciting and valuable knowledge to be gained through engaged reading and listening. It was great to be in that mental space again.

To keep a long and involved story relatively short, I spent the next couple of months visiting friends and family, volunteering, and preparing to move to Oregon. This sounds like vacation, but was actually quite busy and somewhat stressful as I tried to make up for long absences. I bought my first-ever car, a 1999 Honda Civic named Spike. I found a place to rent in Portland (sadly because a friend was leaving her house and I was able to take over the lease). Then I packed up all my possessions (minus some childhood memories stored in my dad’s basement), and on February 8th I left Colorado and headed to greener places.

Settling In 

 Moving is hard. And building furniture is hard. The good news is... Things finally came together.

Moving is hard. And building furniture is hard. The good news is... Things finally came together.

It feels weird to be starting over again, even if it’s in a place that’s relatively familiar to me. I’m having to shop for furniture and cleaning supplies (not to mention the dreaded groceries). I keep being reminded of my first move to Oregon: including my annoyance over not having clothes hangers is the exact same feeling I had on my first day in the dorms. I’m establishing a completely new friend group, starting over after several experiences starting over.

Through it all I’m trying to take my own advice—trying to be relentlessly positive, keep a student travel attitude, cultivate a “broke college student” mentality, write everything down and keep a constant set of manic lists and back-of-the-mind “Plan B” futures. I’m simultaneously embracing my new home and maintaining my communities across the country and further afield around the world.

Katie Dwyer desk

And, for the first time in a long time, I have a home that’s without interruptions by roommates or family members. For the first time in over a year, I have a desk that is only mine. For the first time in my life, my primary at-home workspace is NOT a corner of my bedroom.

Starting over isn’t easy. It’s not easy as a college student and it’s not easy once you’ve graduated and start trying to establish yourself in the “real world.” But it’s exciting as well. It’s a chance to seriously think about how you want your life to look, and where best to be to make that vision a reality.

As I’m typing away at my new desk, looking out on my funky Portland neighborhood, I’m feeling like there’s a whole world of opportunity out there. And that is somewhere I’m quite happy to be. 

If you liked this post, please check out "Unconventional Twentysomethings," "The Confused Graduate," "Saying 'Yes,'" and "Imagined 'Plan B' Futures." Please also leave comments with your personal experiences with choosing a home. How did you wind up where you are? Are you happy with that choice? Do you plan to stay?