The closest I’ve come to experiencing homesickness abroad hit me last week. My roommate’s mom was in town for a few days, and among the many household initiatives a mom adopts upon visiting her semi-grown child, (scrubbing a neglected bathroom sink, for example) the cutest was the way she kept delivering unsolicited bowls of sliced fruit to her daughter’s bedroom. It felt…familiar. I can’t count the number of times I came home last year, eager to escape from school-induced stress (read: take a lengthy nap in a non-twin bed) and woke up to a comprehensive fruit bowl on my nightstand, courtesy of mom. Objectively, very cute.

These past few days, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about what it is that turns a house into a home. I’m living with a roommate who is kind and of a compatible sloppiness level to myself, but we don’t have much of a relationship. I leave before she does and she comes home after I do and we end up overlapping for maybe five minutes a day. So although I’m grateful for the conveniences of a kitchen and a washer (and slightly less grateful for a shower whose hot water is extremely unpredictable), by my standards, the place is not a home.

I wasn’t completely on board with my family’s move to Durham. I’d grown up with our Cary house in a literal sense; we replaced our turquoise carpets with wood floors as I reinvented myself via self-induced side bangs for the first time, updated our kitchen backsplash around the same time I accepted that I’d never be a scientist (10thgrade chemistry) and got our deck power washed the week I received my first college acceptance letter. In our ten years together, that house had undergone a transformation comparable to my own journey through adolescence. In all honesty, I just didn’t think Durham could compete.

Despite my reservations, I was disproven. Somewhere between waking up to muffled voices, deep in discussion over a plate of my mom’s signature cream cheese biscuits, the bustle of getting dinner plated seconds before sundown during Ramadan dinner parties and quieter mornings spent catching up on schoolwork with a cup of coffee in hand, Durham became home.

My research (omg am I a scientist??) has led me to observe that food is a common denominator in each of these nostalgic recollections. However, I think it’s more than that. I say this because every afternoon, a few of Yusra’s clients and I break for tea.

What started as a five-minute pause in which we gathered to share a cup of the flavorless excuse for earl grey available in the workroom pantry has transformed into a half-hour potluck/group therapy session to which one of the women regularly contributes a thermos of traditional Syrian coffee. It’s a time that I’ve come to look forward to, because in these half hour segments, I feel more at home than I do in my apartment. But again, it isn’t just the food.

It’s the way we show up, hearts open and judgements cast aside despite having met just under a month ago. It’s the way we listen and empathize, joke and reflect. It’s an environment of warmth and compassion supported in part by diabetes-inducing fruit cake. Sure, food is what brings us together, but it’s this energy that truly unites us.

It’s this same energy that I flash back to when I think of growing up in Cary, and now our home in Durham. An energy that makes me feel valued and supported and at ease. An energy that I admittedly lack in my apartment here in Turkey, but hope to establish in my own home some day. And for the record, I lied earlier. I’m a little homesick.