Home is a concept that has fascinated and perplexed humans for centuries. For many, home represents a place of safety, belonging, and identity. Yet, for someone like me, born in Asia but raised in the United States and Europe, the idea of home has always been elusive. I have spent much of my life feeling like a foreigner, even in my own birthplace, due to my extensive travels and time spent living abroad.
The experience of being made fun of and intentionally mocked for my accent in both languages, particularly when I'm under a lot of stress, is an ongoing challenge that often leaves me feeling vulnerable.
My speech impediment becomes an easy target during these moments when my brain struggles to structure my thoughts and convey them accurately, leading to frustrating and embarrassing situations.
Additionally, the constant battle to recall proper grammar in two languages further compounds the difficulty, amplifying the sense of self-consciousness and making effective communication an uphill battle.
The question, "Where is home?" often leaves me grappling with its complexity, unsure of where to begin, and frequently resulting in an uncomfortable and bewildering pause in the conversation.
My journey started in Asia, my birthplace and where I spent my formative years. As I journeyed through life, circumstances led me to the United States, marking the onset of my perpetual status as an outsider. My accent and cultural disparities often cast me as the "foreign kid," despite my earnest attempts at assimilation, rendering the concept of belonging an elusive one.
From my tween years through young adulthood, I navigated a life in survival mode living in the US and later in Europe, grappling with the challenges of being a foreigner and a soul in search of identity. During this time, I often found myself sacrificing authenticity in a relentless pursuit of fitting in, all in the hopes of discovering a semblance of belonging that ultimately proved to be false.
When I returned to my home country and stepped into what society often dubs the "real world," I found myself grappling with a familiar identity crisis that persisted. Once more, I was branded as a "foreigner," not only due to my accent but also because of my distinct mindset, unique perspective, and, perhaps amusingly, my unconventional way of consuming noodles. Unlike the customary slurping, I opted to roll up noodles like a ball of yarn using chopsticks, setting me apart in yet another unexpected way. I still do that to this day.
After I became a mother, I shared a home with my son for many years. Our bond provided me with a sense of belonging and purpose. However, as he grew older and embarked on his college journey, our home began to feel emptier. Little did I know that the true test of my concept of home was just around the corner.
The year 2020 brought a global pandemic that would change our lives in unimaginable ways. Amidst the fear and uncertainty, the blame game began, and rumors circulated that the virus originated in China. As an Asian-American, this period was particularly challenging for me. I had just relocated to a new area after moving my son into his college dorm, and the unfamiliarity of the place intensified my anxiety.
Every trip to the grocery store or gas station filled me with dread, fearing that I might become a target of harassment due to my ethnicity. My new surroundings did not feel like home; they felt like a battleground where I had to constantly watch my back.
In winter 2022 I finally had the opportunity to revisit my birth country. It had been years since I had set foot there, and I wasn't sure what to expect. However, as I settled into my ancestral home, something remarkable happened. I decided to go for a walk in the neighborhood, a simple act that I had taken for granted in the past.
To my surprise, I felt safe.
For the first time in a long while, I realized that home was not a fixed location; it was a feeling. In that moment, as I walked the streets of my birthplace without fear or threat, I understood what home truly meant to me. It wasn't about a specific address or a set of walls; it was about feeling safe and free from the burden of being seen as a foreigner. It was about being able to be myself without constantly worrying about how others perceived me.
Home was where I felt the most secure, where I could breathe without the weight of prejudice or discrimination.
This revelation reshaped my perspective on home and belonging. I realized that I had been searching for something external, a place or a community that would validate my sense of self. However, home was never meant to be something outside of me. It was a state of mind, a feeling of peace and acceptance that I could carry with me wherever I went.
Upon my return to the United States, I clung tightly to this profound revelation about the essence of home, carrying it like a cherished treasure deep within my heart. No longer did I perceive it as a mere physical place; instead, it had transformed into a sanctuary of inner peace and unwavering safety.
As I ventured forth into the familiar surroundings that had been my home for two years, an exhilarating sense of liberation washed over me, dispelling the once-persistent fear that had gnawed at my soul.
With unwavering determination, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery, forging a home within myself—a sanctuary where I could always find solace, acceptance, and a renewed sense of belonging.
This transformation was nothing short of a powerful metamorphosis, one that infused my every step with newfound confidence and resilience, allowing me to navigate the world with a profound sense of self-assuredness and emotional strength.
In the end, my journey from Asia to the United States and Europe, and back to Asia, taught me that home is not bound by borders or defined by external circumstances. It is a feeling that resides within us, a sense of safety and freedom from fear. It is a place where we can be our true selves without judgment or prejudice. Home is where we feel safest, and in that safety, we find our truest sense of belonging.