I have now lived equal parts of my life in China and the United States. Twelve years each. For me, this marks a strange point in my life – I should be calling Tennessee home. Strange, because each time I think about it, this deep longing rises up and yells, “How dare you betray home in such a way.” This longing does not stem from plans to live in China again, but instead from the experiences China slowly bore into my soul and molded me.
It is difficult to explain to someone what spending grades 1-12 growing up as a foreigner is truly like. It is difficult to explain how it affects who you are. People want to know if I lived in a hut, had McDonalds, have eaten a cat, and owned a bicycle. My favorite is everyone’s desire to know if I can understand the ladies in nail salons. These questions sometimes feel endless. At one point growing up, when asked to say something in Chinese, I would count to ten as fast as I possibly could. My way of just getting it over with. As an adult dealing with these questions, I think back to a story my mom likes to tell of when we first moved to China.
We were riding a train, and while walking down the train car aisles, people were constantly touching my head and saying things about me. When given the chance, my mom checked with me to make sure I was okay. I assured her it was okay, and informed my mom they were simply curious.
Of course, I cannot take much credit for the wise words that came out of my six year old mouth. I have no memory of the experience. I do, however, try to hold onto this attitude when bombarded with questions, and politely answer when asked if all I eat is sushi, despite wanting to simply say “Really???” People are putting themselves out there in order to understand something very foreign to them. Every question, no matter how ignorant, is based on that person’s own life experience and the knowledge they have gained through those experiences. Every question is based on one beautiful emotion; curiosity.
Here is where I want to come back to this concept of home. For me, home is not only where the heart is, but also where your heart is known. I have been blessed to have people around me who are deeply curious about growing up overseas. Conversations about China have moved passed twenty questions and center instead on the way my experiences manifest themselves. We don’t specifically bring up China very often; however, my Eastern values inevitably manifest themselves, and my relationships have the space to evaluate them. If this is going to be home, I need to be surrounded by people who understand that growing up in China was not simply an experience, but is part of who I am.
Let me use conflict as an example, as my way of going about conflict is probably my most Chinese-like trait. I hate conflict. Any form of it used to make my whole body tense up, no exaggeration. When conflict would arise, I would throw myself under the bus in order to maintain harmony and peace. In the States, this is referred to as being a doormat and is typically frowned upon. After some trial and error, I began to realize the importance of surrounding myself with people who understood this about me, and would help me grow and balance this value with the culture I was now in. I still hate conflict, but I now balance harmony with knowing when it is appropriate and healthy to assert myself.
Making a new location home is not easy, and it does not guarantee happiness. There are times when you still long for places you have lived before. Sometimes, making a new home requires making yourself vulnerable and learning to express yourself in new ways. Finding a new home means putting things into perspective. You may have to answer twenty questions, and you may have to withstand a lot of curiosity. (Hopefully, no one will try to touch your head when you walk down the street.) In the end, finding those who provide you the space to let your heart be known makes all the struggle of making a new home a beautiful experience.
Where is your heart known? Have you found people have let your heart be known?