How to Leave Home Without Losing Your Roots: Moving far from your hometown and family doesn’t mean leaving them behind forever. Vella Mbenna shares advice for staying close to your roots even when you live far away.
I received an advanced readers copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Receiving this ARC did not in any way sway my opinion or my review.
People often end up leaving the place they were born and build their lives somewhere new. Some get jobs in other states. Some fall in love and settle down in a far-away location. Others pick up and move in search of adventure. It’s no wonder many of us are living life far from where we started. But Vella Mbenna says it’s important to always remember where and whom you came from, and to keep close ties to your roots.
“Having a home base is a basic human need,” says Mbenna, author of Muddy Roads Blue Skies: My Journey to the Foreign Service, from the Rural South to Tanzania and Beyond (Muddy Roads Press, 2019, ISBN: 978-1-7327918-0-0, $16.99). “It helps us feel safe and grounded. The place and people we came from made us what we are—for better or worse. Some people struggle to integrate the old parts of themselves with the new. Luckily, leaving home doesn’t have to mean leaving behind who you are. You can move, change, and grow while still being proud of and connected to your roots.”
Mbenna speaks from experience. Born and raised in a small town in rural Georgia, she left everyone she knew to begin a globetrotting career in the US Foreign Service, working her way up through the ranks and building a life that exceeded her wildest dreams. For the next 26 years, she lived and worked in 13 different foreign countries, including Tanzania, Tunisia, Sudan, and Afghanistan. Mbenna’s career may have taken her far away, but she never forgot her roots. In fact, maintaining close ties to home and her loved ones helped Mbenna persevere through challenges and helped her live her best life. Muddy Roads Blue Skies tells the remarkable story of Mbenna’s journey from the backwoods of Georgia to the far reaches of the globe.
Keep reading for Mbenna’s advice on how to keep your home close to your heart no matter where life takes you.
Never forget where you come from. No matter how successful you become, remember where you started out and feel proud of it, advises Mbenna. If you don’t already feel pride in your hometown or home state, spend a little time remembering what’s great about it and what you loved about the place you’re from. Spread the word by talking about your hometown with people in your current town or city.
Stay connected to news from home. Subscribe to a local newspaper. Read blogs that focus on your hometown. Actually read your cousin’s holiday newsletter that arrives in the mail each year. Keeping connected to the happenings back home will help you feel close to your loved ones any time you’re feeling lonely or isolated.
Nurture ties with your hometown friends. Life may take you far away, but you can still maintain the longstanding friendships that matter to you. Keep in touch via email, Skype, or phone calls. Let your group of friends know anytime you’re coming back for a visit and try to arrange a dinner or other outing when you’ll be home. Or, plan a weekend getaway with them and meet halfway in a fun city.
Keep your accent. Many people think their accent is something to be ashamed of, and therefore they try to get rid of it. But Mbenna says accents are something to take pride in. It is part of who you are, so don’t worry too much about trying to neutralize or change it.
“I didn’t come across many deep Southerners serving in the State Department, and a Southern accent was considered ‘redneck’ or ‘backwards’ and, therefore, frowned upon,” says Mbenna. “In fact, the few Southerners I knew had two accents: a work accent and the one they used when they returned home to the South. Tired of snide comments and eye-rolling, I did the same during those years when I had lost sight of who I was. As I grew older and bolder, I paid no attention and was proud of my Southern accent. I became a part of letting the world know that the United States was a melting pot of accents, and the Southern American accent I possessed was one of them.”
Let your people know you love them… Make an effort to stay connected to your parents, siblings, and other relatives and loved ones back home. Call frequently, send birthday cards, and if you see something that would make them smile, drop it in the mail to brighten their day.
…and lean on them when things get hard. “Love and support from your family will help you persevere when things fall apart,” says Mbenna. “Reach out to your family members when you need encouragement, even though you are physically far away. When I was having a hard day, calling home made things better. Hearing their voices from so far away was hard, but knowing they loved me and had my back gave me the energy and conviction I needed to move forward.”
Remember the lessons from your parents. The wisdom your parents gave you growing up becomes a powerful connection to home that you can carry with you no matter where you go. Whether you received messages of tough love, or nurturing, or encouragement, use the lessons and advice they gave or continue to give you to make smart decisions and build a good life for yourself today.
Come back home often. If you have parents, brothers and sisters, or extended family still living in your hometown, make a point to visit at least once a year for a reunion. Even if you keep in touch in other ways, nothing can replace a face-to-face visit, complete with hugs and maybe even some delicious home cooking. This is especially important if you have kids; they too will benefit from knowing about their roots from an early age.
Find ways to give back. If you can afford to, Mbenna recommends finding some small way to give back to the people and places that helped make you who you are today. Whether that means sending a little cash to your parents, donating to your niece’s school fundraiser, or giving a gift to a local nonprofit, it will feel rewarding to pay it forward.
“The more I give, the better I feel, and the more I want to give,” says Mbenna.
Repair broken relationships. Unfortunately, some people leave home because they associate pain or trauma with their families or childhoods. Sometimes it is best to leave painful histories in the past; however, if it feels right for you, Mbenna suggests trying to mend relationships. Often this can bring you healing, and you may be surprised to find that the other person or people involved are ready to heal as well.
“Even if you find yourself in a new city with lots of great qualities, there’s still no place like home,” concludes Mbenna. “Just because you’re physically far away doesn’t mean you have to emotionally move further from the people and places that made you. Keep them close in your heart, and your life will be all the richer.”
About the Author:
Vella Mbenna is the author of Muddy Roads Blue Skies: My Journey to the Foreign Service, from the Rural South to Tanzania and Beyond. She was born in the Holmestown community of Midway, Georgia, where she grew up with eight siblings and parents who instilled in her the important values that would set her on the path to success. Throughout her youth, Vella dreamed of escaping small-town USA and traveling the world. In 1989, that dream came true when she was offered a position with the US Department of State Foreign Service. During her highly successful 26-year career as a diplomat, Vella served with honor in 13 foreign countries as well as two tours in Washington, DC.
For more information, please visit vellambenna.com.
She can also be found on:
About the Book:
Muddy Roads Blue Skies: My Journey to the Foreign Service, from the Rural South to Tanzania and Beyond (Muddy Roads Press, 2019, ISBN: 978-1-7327918-0-0, $16.99) is available from major online booksellers. It is also available in ebook and audiobook format.
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