I am writing to report that last week I came back to the United States, to the city I grew up in, and to the parents who have encouraged me every step of the way. I have come home. I am relishing in the variety of foods, the convenience of drinkable tap water, and the ease of crossing the street. I am so glad to see the ecstatic smiles of my friends after happy reunions and to be surrounded by the small comforts here.
After a long adventure, when the plane begins to descend onto the ground of my home airport, I am usually filled with excitement and a sense of relief. To know that my life will soon resume back to normalcy is a reassuring thing. As Dorothy, with a click of her red heels, famously said, “there’s no place like home.”
But this time was different. The uplifting feeling of arriving home was brought down by remembering all of the people and places and newly set habits I will miss about Nanjing. The amount of opportunity for self reflection as well as the joy of getting to know the city where I spent the first three years of my life will be impossible here in the United States. And the sense of balance I was working on achieving will be largely inhibited for the time being.
I have always considered Nanjing, Jiangsu, China my hometown and set off on this adventure to get to know the city’s ins and outs and finally be able to regard it as home as easily as I can call my hometown in the U.S. home. While explaining this to a fellow American, he stood dumbfounded that a place I lived for just three years would hold such significance for me. He told me about his birth and first three years on the East coast of the U.S. and eventual move to the West coast, emphasizing that he feels little to no connection to the East coast.
I reminded him that he doesn’t match a physical description and doesn’t have people outright disbelieving him when he tells them where he is from. On the other hand, if I proudly pronounce my mid-sized Midwestern city as my hometown, people are not shy about telling me I look Chinese or asking where I am really from. Furthermore, his cross-country move was accompanied by his family. Any questions he may have had growing up could have been easily resolved. His personal history remained in tact, his first language stayed with him, and any cultural differences present are minute compared to the transnational journey I made at his age.
Not surprisingly, with time, my feelings of belonging, comfort, and home only grew in my remarkable city. As I found interesting bookstores, established favorite restaurants, learned the language, and participated in local events and national holiday celebrations, I created for myself a sense of familiarity in Nanjing. This paired with revisiting meaningful places and people from my early years made it incredibly hard to say goodbye but left me determined to come back again.
I have more experiences to unpack, emotions to process, and insights to reveal. The bittersweetness of coming back to America is one of the first lessons I will share:
Coming back to one home means saying goodbye to the other; it is the price of having my heart on two continents, across the world.