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A homing journey: Notions of home during the COVID-19 pandemic

Published 11 January 2021 / By Alejandra Castellanos Breton, Lisa Marie Perez Sosa, & Jose Guillermo Ricalde

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Introduction

This post is part of the COMPAS Coronavirus and Mobility Forum and is co-published with Routed: Migration & (Im)Mobility Magazine.

As Erasmus Mundus master students, we undergo a high mobility scheme during our programmes, which has made us reflect on home as a dynamic concept. At the same time, we found ourselves uncomfortable with the heteronormative model of ‘home’ that has perpetuated. On top of this, from March 2020 until now, friends, the media, and governments have bombarded us with the phrase "Stay at home", the most common recommendation to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The constant uncritical use of the term ‘home’ brought up several questions and became an invitation to re-think the notion of home: What is home? How does it feel? And how is it built up? We became curious about how notions of home among the current LGBTQI+ Erasmus Mundus master students have been shaped during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The purpose of our research was to provide a reflective journey for the participants. Using the photovoice method, they shared photographs and narratives of their homing process in the past few months. We found diverse experiences on the nexus between homing and COVID-19.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Marta used to understand her home as an expanded place, encompassing public spaces, where she felt safe. After the lockdown the city seemed more hostile. She felt that her space had shrunk and that she had become ‘displaced from the world’. She started to feel homesick, a sensation that she had not experienced before lockdown. She did things to feel more at home and reconnect with her family (such as cooking her mother’s recipes, remembering childhood stories and making calls with her family). These activities made her re-establish those connections that had been damaged by COVID-19. Her notion of home shifted from spanning across a variety of spaces and experiences to solely relying on her partner and her memories.

apartment during pandemic

New arrangements: ‘The space was reduced, my partner and I lived in a tiny, open-space flat in Bologna. With the lockdown, the spatial conditions of the apartment forced us to share everything in our small universe.’ —Marta

Sophie used to link her notion of home to the place where her family and close friends were. However, the COVID-19 pandemic made her realise that she could have more than one home. ‘Home’ was no longer only a geographical space. Additionally, the lockdown gave her the time to be with herself. She reflected on the things that she had left on the side about her sexual orientation. She noticed that she had been hiding, but she no longer wanted to. Now she felt more comfortable in her own skin.

Take a look: ‘A home is a cosy place. I can hide or not under the blankets, it is my choice. It sure takes an extra effort to show myself, but I have seen I do not have to hide. I sometimes still need to do it, but hopefully, soon I won’t have to and I will not do it.’ —Sophie

When borders started to close, Pablo reflected on how sometimes homing is forced on us; he ​lost the control to choose how and where to be, with whom, and when. Moreover, due to the insistence of his mother, he felt the pressure to stock up on food, buying around 80€ of meat, something he would not normally do. In other words, he was not free to experience home as he would have wanted to.

​Emine found in the COVID-19 pandemic an opportunity to reflect about herself. She discovered that her body was precious and comfortable and that she needed to take more care of it, especially now that COVID-19 represented a threat to her health. She expanded her perception of home adding her body as a part of it.

Two boys home: ‘Home means [ac]company and love. When you are alone, it is not like a home.’ —Luis

Luis projected his idea of home into the future; he is still looking for it. COVID-19 reinforced his notion of home, which involved the necessity of settling down, where he could build up a relationship with a partner. He believed that being gay and on the move were obstacles to having a dwelling with a long-term stable relationship. Therefore, Luis felt he could not fulfil his ideal of home.

Xiang created new bonds with his dwelling by including new routines, new spaces, and developing new attachments with his partner. He gave new purposes and meanings to his garden, making it a place to work. In essence, the COVID-19 forced new meanings and new ways of inhabiting internal and external spaces by finding belonging and familiarity in old and new practices.

​​After documenting all these experiences, we found that the photographs and narratives shared by the students brought into light how the COVID-19 pandemic transformed, reinforced, and maintained their notions of home. It opened a space to reflect, negotiate feelings, and re-create home in creative ways. The experiences gathered also demonstrated what the government’s strategy "Stay at home" entails and how it has been used without considering that home is a multi-layered concept.

The COVID-19 pandemic created a new space for some students to understand and review how they lived their sexual orientation when living with their families. Homing functions as a process of inclusions and exclusions that build up what we can and can't define as home, and to potentially subvert and resist heteronormative patterns.

In conclusion, their testimonies show that they are continuously becoming at home through practices of rooting and uprooting.

Alejandra Castellanos Breton is undertaking the European Masters in Migration and Intercultural Relations (EMMIR). She has worked in Colombia with NGOs and the United Nations on topics related to coordination in humanitarian affairs, armed conflict, forced displacement, gender, and Venezuelan migration. 

Lisa Marie Perez Sosa is also a Masters student on Migration and Intercultural Relations (EMMIR) and is conducting research at Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, Germany. Her work revolves around topics of integration, migration, culture of legality, and international affairs.

Jose Guillermo Ricalde Perez is also a current student from the European Master in Migration and Intercultural Relations (EMMIR). He has a degree in Law and a master's degree in Human Rights and the Rights of Native Peoples, and has worked on the topics of gender equality and LGBTIQ+ rights within NGOs and government in Mexico.