“Home is where the heart is.” “Home is where you hang your hat.” “There’s no place like home.”
There are countless sayings about home because it is central to our lives and who we are. It can be a literal abode, a person or even a feeling.
Here is how three UBC students define home and integrate that meaning into their living spaces.
To Angus Nordlund, a first-year arts student, home can be both a practical place to live and an expression of self. He said home is “a place that you put a lot of your time and energy into taking care of and maintaining because you thrive in that space.”
The format of the room is typical of most first-year dorms: the out-of-fashion green door, the notoriously scary 'no-tilt' desk chair and the creaky wooden mattress frame. What makes his room unique, Nordlund said, is that every part of the room has a specific purpose and a collection of objects suited to him.
Gesturing to the many trinkets and photos that he brought from his home in Seattle, as well as the array of photos pinned on the room’s cork board, Nordlund said bringing these small mementos from home helped remind him of his support network.
“At university you have the times where it’s tough because you’re away from family and you’re in a new space ... but just knowing that you ... have those people in your life to support you is extremely comforting and helps you get through the day.”
For Nordlund, there wasn’t a particular way in which he decorated his room; it was more so a process of collecting things that are significant to him and incorporating them into the space.
“It’s just sort of ‘go with the flow’ and stuff starts to accumulate as you get small ideas from time to time,” he said. “It becomes an expression of your thoughts and moods throughout your time here.”
When asked if he had any advice for first years who are nervous about moving into a dorm, he said students may surprise themselves with how quickly they can adapt to their new living spaces. He advised them to just do what works for them.
“Don’t worry about thinking that you have to have [your room] a certain way or that there’s a correct way to do it. If you do it your way it becomes more familiar to you and it feels almost like you’re back home because that’s what made home for you.”
For Chuzheng Tan, a third-year ancient Mediterranean and near Eastern studies major, “home is where you can feel comfortable doing anything.”
He described himself as “not much of an outdoorsy person,” which makes cultivating his own indoor space all the more important. It’s a safe space where he can express himself freely without being concerned about what others think, he said.
Tan’s personality and values are reflected everywhere you turn in his room. Above his bed hang posters of various celebrities: Lana Del Rey, Marilyn Monroe, Lady Gaga, Audrey Hepburn. He admires these figures because they’re “controversial” and “have a profound influence in [his] life and how [he] interacts with the world.”
He also has some satirical political posters and parodies, including one of Mao Zedong with the head of a cat titled “Chairman Meow.” In another, Van Gogh reclines in a convertible with the Mona Lisa. In a third, Communist leaders and thinkers don party hats underneath the words, “Welcome to the Party.” Tan said he doesn’t necessarily agree with the views of these figures, but enjoys the humour and creativity of their caricatures.
On the other side of the room, a statue of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and battle strategy, sits on his desk. It serves as motivation to stay on task.
“As students, our main battles that we’ll often go on is [to finish] our schoolwork,” Tan said.
To the left of his desk, a shelf on Tan’s bookcase is devoted to another deity: Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of love and fertility. The shelf combines his academic interest in ancient Mediterranean culture alongside his spiritual interests, with crystals, tarot cards and perfumes dedicated to the goddess.
Tan admitted he’s not the tidiest person. Having grown up in an East Asian household, he enjoys the freedom of not having a parent pressuring him to clean his room.
“I hate organizing things ... I think it goes against the laws of the universe,” he said. “Entropy grows no matter what you do to it. You clean it, it’s gonna get messy [regardless] — so why bother?” This attitude allows him to be “one with the room” and create an organic space rather than just a “site that you live in.”
A blank patch of wall remains in the corner of Tan’s room, marking the beginnings of a new project. He said it’s going to be dark academia-themed, with vintage-looking papers adorned with stickers. Against the wall beside his bed are several stacks of books.
Tan pulled out his current read: a secondhand book on Celtic culture. It wasn’t until he opened the book that he noticed something else was inside: an old newspaper clipping of an article titled, “Celtic Spirit Found in the Winding Path of History.”
“I was so surprised when I found it,” Tan said. “It fits perfectly on this wall.”
But just like how everything else in his room follows the second law of thermodynamics, entropy hasn’t brought it to the wall yet. “I don’t think its purpose belongs to the wall as of right now,” he said. “I think it belongs in my book as my bookmark.”
“It’ll end up on there when I’ve finished this book.”
As a Chinese Canadian who has lived between Canada and China through, second-year forestry student Sophy Wu’s concept of home lies in her identity as a global citizen and her interactions with the natural environment.
Wu was born in Montreal. At the age of four, her family moved to Shenzhen in the south of China, where they lived for ten years before moving back to Canada. Wu attended high school in Toronto, then moved to Vancouver to attend UBC.
Mandarin is Wu’s first language. Her lifestyle was largely influenced by her parents’ hometown of Taiyuan, a city in Northern China.
“I was not really identifying with my Canadian nationality yet at that point because I was attending [Chinese] public schools and all that,” said Wu. “It [was] a very thorough, authentic Chinese study experience,” contrasting with the education she would have gotten had she attended primary school in Canada.
Home for Wu has traversed landmasses and oceans within the frame of two short decades. “Growing up, I had [these] Western-Eastern, and then Northern-Southern [experiences] fused together.”
Living in cities all her life has helped Wu to see them as her home on a larger scale. Starting in grade one, she relied on public transit to get around Shenzhen and explore different places. She also views school as an integral part of home — especially at the university level, where academic, social and personal spheres merge into one.
All of those dynamic aspects come into play when shaping her definition of home.
In her living space, Wu likes her surroundings to reflect her personality and interests. As someone passionate about sustainable urban design, she appreciates the open layout of her campus studio: its high ceilings and abundant storage to conceal clutter.
Wu’s mother, who still lives in Toronto and flew out to Vancouver to help her move, has left her imprint on Wu’s living space as well. “I’m trying to motivate myself to cook more,” Wu said, “so my mom has helped me set up sliced ... vegetables so that when I cook noodles ... I have a variety of stuff in it.”
Wu’s pantry is full of dry goods like noodles from her parents’ home province and congee, a Chinese rice porridge, that she can take on forestry field trips and mountain climbing.
Her wardrobe is a continuation of this theme of practicality. Inspired by the lush hues of the Pacific Northwest, Wu’s closet consists of deep greens, blues and browns. Even her desktop and iPad are green to match.
In the corner by the window is Wu’s plant collection — another trademark of a forestry student. All of them are from the UBC Botanical Garden and were cultivated locally, with several housed in eco-friendly containers. Front and centre is a pot Wu painted at a Forestry Undergraduate Society (FUS) event in her first year, with imagery of the four seasons wrapping around it.
“Whether it be in my room or my academic work or how I interact with people, they all very much reflect my values and my passions and my worldview,” Wu said.
This year, Wu has taken on roles as an orientation leader at Jump Start, VP external of the FUS and a UBC Sustainability Ambassador.
“I always uphold this image of [having] integrity and respect for people and [being] open-minded and compassionate as well.”
To Wu, home isn’t just where you come back to rest; you can carry it with you and spread it to others, too.