The theme of my first-year welcome week was: “Be planted”. It seemed like an odd choice, given the wide word bank that could have been consulted. It wasn’t until the college president addressed us that it became clear what these two simple yet heavy words would come to signify for all the eager students, now listening attentively.

The president reminded us of the importance of being rooted in an environment that nurtures maturity of intellect, character, and faith. She delved into the beauty of diversity and what it means to embrace and celebrate our differences. It was a short but effective speech, making us understand that just like the previous at home, this new phase of life will constantly challenge our ideas and beliefs and open our minds to different worldviews.

As soon as we were dismissed, we went back into our dorm rooms. I sat on the small bed and looked around the pale room. How could I possibly call this home? How could I be expected to “root” myself in such a place?

What home is and what it’s not, is broad and subjective. Growing up, home was the house I lived in and nothing more. We often equate home with living in an environment that values one as an individual, allowing them to grow and achieve their best potential. Home can embody ideas, beliefs, and at times a yearning for something beyond what we are accustomed to. For third culture individuals, home is harder to define. It is neither physical nor emotional, rather a combination of the two: an attempt to be rooted within a physical environment while looking for pieces of what feels like home in people.

This new place was cold and unwelcoming. It lacked the cool bliss of lying on the tile floor when it was scorching hot outside, the aroma of a delicious meal, the sound of laughter from neighbors’ homes, and above all… a sense of peace and belonging. I hoped that the unfamiliar would become familiar, and bestow on me a sense of home. But the feeling never came. It was hard to find peace in a place where I did not feel like I was part of a community. It became clear with time that home was more than a comfortable bed and a clean shower. If I were to survive, I had to find a connection to this new environment. If I was going to make this place my home for the next four years, I had to redefine what that would look like. I reflected on what I needed to feel safe and peaceful: To feel at home.

The main thing was community. I was born and raised in a society where neighbors shared meals, laughter, and more. It was welcoming in that it made sure each of its members felt loved, valued, and cared for. Now, I was in a society where the word community was a mere reference to church groups and bonds forged out of common characteristics, out of sameness.

If my idea of home were translated into a house, it would be in an environment that welcomes and celebrates differences: A community that seeks and values the contribution of each member, while fostering harmony.

Being in a place that called out complacency, and exposed to ideas of clean energy, sustainable living, and eco-friendly lifestyles, it dawned on me that I had to expand my idea of home to include this new way of living: To be careful of the footprint we leave on the environment.

The majority of Rwandans who build houses don’t think green. We plant trees, but that’s as far as we go. Present and immediate concerns mean that certain things are delegated to the future, to be thought of later when we have “fewer problems”. However, part of what being communal entails is being environmentally conscious and ensuring that generations to come have a place they can call home.

Sustainable living is a way of rethinking how we build and what we build with. It might include building and buying homes in areas with water treatment and recycling systems or lighting and warming our homes with sunlight or even using rainwater tanks to give communities access to clean water. In essence, taking advantage of our locality.

Creativity is a necessary requirement for sustainability. Case in point: Volcanic rocks were first thought bothersome and useless, until someone recognized the upside of building with them. The rocks are ideal for creating sidewalks in parks and botanical garden without hindering the growth of indigenous plants seeing as they are porous and good at retaining moisture and heat.

Affordability is the other requirement. Organizations specializing in sustainable housing are numbered and have placed such high prices on the houses that it’s hard for the average person to afford one. Builders should strive to think green and set standards on the types of homes that welcome individuals from all walks of life.

Gloria is majoring in Biochemistry/Pre-med and minoring in creative writing. She is an avid reader, likes listening to music, travelling and watching comedy and cartoons.