Home is Not A Place



A place where I can go. 

To take this off my shoulders. 

Someone take me home… 

So goes the chorus of the song ‘Home’ by Machine Gun Kelly, Bebe Rexha, and X Ambassadors.  

Home: a cosy four-letter word that encompasses a multitude of meanings and a myriad of emotions. People make movies on it, write poetry about it, and long for its embrace. Perhaps what is most intriguing about home is that there is an inherent familiarity to the word, but articulating its true essence remains a challenge. Is home a physical place enclosed by four walls, a person you trust deeply, or a warm cup of coffee on a rainy evening? 


Where is home?  

For Associate Professor Chris McMorran from the Department of Japanese Studies, home resides, not in a singular place, but many places. His flat and family that he returns to every day in Singapore is definitely one home. But Prof. McMorran was born and raised in Greenfield, a quaint town in Iowa, USA, surrounded by fields of corn, soybeans, and alfalfa. “A part of that place inheres in me,” explained Prof. McMorran. Over the years, he has also spent time in Kumamoto, Japan and Boulder, Colorado. Each of these places holds a piece of home for him.  

Over the course of a lifetime of living in many places and having to constantly rearticulate who he is and where he is from, the topic of home is close to Prof. McMorran. “As a geographer by training, I read about the geographies of home and belonging. At some point, I put my personal experiences together with the literature and created a course,” he narrated the birth of his General Education course simply called Home 

The course, which probably has the shortest name that any course has, runs annually in the second academic semester. The students have taught Prof. McMorran as much about the concept of home as he teaches them about it. The homework essays from the course have taken on a new life, being turned into a three-season podcast series called Home on the Dot, where students deliver their stories on home in engaging audio bytes. The podcast is currently on hiatus until additional funding is available. “But you know what, I’m really proud of the episodes we made. We were even featured on Singapore Airlines’ in-flight entertainment!” shared Prof. McMorran excitedly.  

Home on the Dot was featured in our article Podcasts of NUS. Check out the article here! 


Associate Professor Chris McMorran (right) with some members of the podcast team. 


Home through objects, five senses, and more 

But home doesn’t always have to be a physical space. “There was once an international student in my class who really stood out. He was struggling with his assignment because his idea of home didn’t fit any geographical location. His home was his laptop,” recalled Prof. McMorran. For the student in question, the laptop was emblematic of his sense of belonging, carrying his social world wherever he went. In these instances, home transcends traditional boundaries, manifesting itself in cherished objects that have profound connection to one’s identity.  

What if we tried to describe home through our five senses? Marsya Auni (Y2, Environmental Engineering) shared how she understands home through her five senses: 

Sight: Bookshelf 

The bookshelf in Marsya’s room holds not only her favourite reads but also tools for her many hobbies, like crocheting.  

Smell: Bukhoor 

Bukhoor is an Arabic incense that Marsya’s mother uses in their home. The deep and complex aroma it gives off is strongly reminiscent of home to Marysa. 

 Hearing: Her cats 

Marsya immediately feels at home when she hears her cats, Brownie and Oreo, meowing as she enters the house. 

Touch: Hugs  

We agree, no explanations needed! 

Taste: Food 

“My mother’s food, of course, is home,” Marsya continued, “but I’m also surprised at how sometimes you visit other people’s houses and their food tastes similar to your own family recipe. It immediately reminds me of home.” 

Food surfaces regularly as a powerful connector to home. As a Malaysian student studying in Singapore, Darren Boon (Y3, Life Sciences) finds comfort and his sense of home in familiar cuisines like mixed vegetable rice, describing that it feels like “home cooked food”. When asked whether he feels at home in Singapore, he responded in negative. “For me, the people that are closest to my heart actually determine where my home is. I’m very close to my family and because I’m from JB (Johor Bahru), I get to visit them frequently,” he elaborated.  


Darren crosses the JB-SG Causeway frequently to visit his family.  


While Darren is only separated from his home in JB by the Causeway, how about others who have to make foreign places their homes due to physical distance or because they never felt at home in their home in the first place? 

Prof McMorran chipped in with a story about his colleague, Associate Professor T.C. Chang from the Department of Geography, “He [Prof. Chang] shared his effort to make a place feel like home, in the shortest amount of time, with my class last semester. Whenever he travels somewhere for a considerable amount of time, he brings with him postcards, pillowcase covers, carpets and throws: all kinds of textures and colours with memories of other places. Give him a standard faculty accommodation room and within a day he would have completely renovated it to feel like home!”  

For others, making their even temporary physical space feel like home is important for other reasons. “My personal definition of home is a place where I can have a sense of privacy, just chill, and decompress. I didn’t have a space like that when I was younger, so my PGPR room is really where I feel at home,” shared Brendon Tan (Y2, Chemistry), who is also the Cluster Leader for his floor. As such, he likes to design his room, keep it clean and tidy, and buy the softest duvet. “Making my room feel like a home gives me a sense of fulfilment,” smiled Brendon.  


 Brendon, as a Cluster Leader, also ensures that residents on his floor are comfortable and at home as they can be.  


Home through and across nations 

Zooming out a little bit, home also operates on a wider scale. Like at the national level, for example: “There is a maturation process over one’s lifetime where one’s sense of home can expand or contract. For many Singaporeans, the compulsory National Service (NS) can instil a broader sense of home that wasn’t there before,” Prof. McMorran explained.  

“I think NS expands the meaning of home through family. For example, I still believe that my family unit is my home. But after completing NS, my view is that we protect the nation by each of us protecting our own families,” reflected Keith Ng (Y3, Geography). He continued, “But during NS, the other boys who are serving with you also become important. When we go overseas, for example, we train together for weeks on end and their presence also becomes associated with home in a sense.” 

Everyone relates to home differently. It is even more intriguing to see how we interpret home across different cultures and languages. Prof. McMorran described how having local students, international students, and exchange students together in one room discussing the topic of home can lead to very interesting dynamics, “You have local students who have lived in Singapore all their lives and call it home. Then on the other end, you have exchangers, who are fascinated with how this new place runs. Then there are international students who are straddling a place in between where they are not quite at home yet, but are trying.”  

One of the group assignments in the course ‘Home’ involves visiting the home of a group member to see an object in their house that they associate with home. During one such house visit, a French exchange student who went to the home of a Singaporean Indian’s house was thrilled to see a Rotimatic machine. A demonstration of the Rotimatic machine, of course, meant a delicious Indian meal. “For the local student, seeing her life reflected back to her was an eye-opening experience. Through such moments, the students get to realise a bit more of how unique they are,” Prof. McMorran added.


Prof. McMorran and hist student Shriya during the recording of the episode on the Rotimatic. You can listen to the episode here 


Home is not a place – but perhaps a living, breathing sentiment that shape-shifts as we move through life. Sometimes it’s a small dorm room. At other times, home is scattered in many cities around the world. Home can be found in familiar smells, in familiar people and just sometimes – in a singular moment. Whether rooted in familial bonds, cherished objects, or the taste of family recipes, the idea of home is deeply personal and resonates across cultures and experiences. Home has, for a long time, anchored the human spirit, simultaneously grounding and uplifting us all at once. 

What does home mean to you? Tell us in the comments! 


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