Through her eyes: A millennial girl takes on Central Florida
By Alisha Ashford
For quite some time, Orlando didn’t feel like my home.
I guess there are many ways to describe what a home is; it can be a place, it can be a feeling, it can even be wherever family is. I always thought that Orlando just could not be the place I would settle in—my heart didn’t belong here.
So, I suppose I would side with the cliché phrase “home is where the heart is.” After all, clichés must be cliché because they’re true, right? Funny enough, it took me living abroad for a year, coming back to the United States, and completely re-establishing myself in Orlando to realize that it may just be home after all.
The first time I remember feeling at home was while living in Spain during my year as an exchange student. It took me about six months there to ground myself by learning Spanish, making good friends, and finding hobbies. Once I did that, I felt more at home than I can even explain. I had never felt more connected to a place than I did in that little Spanish town. However, even with that being said, I don’t think my contentment while living there had as much to do with the physical place or the people as I once thought it did.
When my time there was up, I dreaded leaving Spain because I thought I was leaving my home and I’d never find it elsewhere. I couldn’t have been further off.
Looking back, I think what made my town in Spain home to me was the fact that I created a life and a routine there for myself as opposed to doing what I did every day just because I was raised that way or was used to it. Every day after school, I stopped at one of the bakeries during the walk home to pick up fresh bread for my host mom. I’d come inside, set the table for lunch, and wait for my host parents to arrive so we could eat together. When the evening came around it would be time for me to head out into the city to see friends or to spend time alone in one of my favorite cafés. I lived within walking distance of everywhere I needed to go: school, the supermarket, the beach, the library, my friend’s house, and my favorite place in the whole city, Castillo de los Patos.
Castillo de los Patos is a fort-like platform elevated right above a Roman amphitheater ruin with a view of the entire city. I used to escape to that place taking only my headphones for music when I needed to get away to think. There is a peacefulness about looking out over a place with so much commotion down below, and finding solitude observing it in quietness. It was within finding those little things I loved about my city and becoming comfortable navigating myself around a place with independence that caused it to become home to me.
Upon arriving back in Florida, I was certain I had lost that feeling for good. However, I was proven wrong when I did whatever I could to rediscover that feeling. The most important thing was to find my community of people.
I met someone who was starting up one of many little house churches in central Florida called “Microchurch.” This one started out for the students of Seminole State College, but it turned out to be much more. Every Thursday we gather in my home to share a home-cooked meal while discussing a book of the Bible. We explain how our week has been, we ask each other for help in troubling situations, and we celebrate each other’s victories. This house church started in my grandparents’ home about a year ago. During this year I have seen people come and go, and I have also met people that stuck with this little community, turning it into our own little family.
I don’t know what it is about sharing a meal with people, but it truly has brought us together in such a special way.
Now, I have found so many things that cause me to feel at home in Orlando. Home to me now is in the spontaneous coffee dates with friends at our local coffee shops. It’s on the midnight trips to the beach to watch the stars. It’s at church with my family every Sunday. It’s in exploring downtown with my best friends. Most of all, home is found in my little community of people who are there for me during the many highs and lows that life brings my way.
Alisha Ashford is a graduate of Lake Mary High School that spent a year in Spain through a student exchange program. She is currently a journalism major at Seminole State College.