More Than an Experience

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?

Photo Credit: MarioMancuso via Compfight cc


  1. Patty Stallings May 14, 2014

    Sara, I love this post.  And I love your heart.  And I love your wisdom-beyond-your-years.   You are an inspiration to me!

    1. Sara Jones May 15, 2014

      I have had some amazing examples to follow!

  2. Linda Lomas May 14, 2014

    Sara, I loved your article. We have had international students living with us for the last four years. It has been quite an experience for us all. I am going to have my family read your article and our students. I loveeeeee what you had to say about Home being where you are known. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Sara Jones May 15, 2014

      Thanks so much! I am sure the last four years have provided a great deal of insight and a lots of questions!

  3. Mary Gemmill May 15, 2014

    The concept of feeling at home where our heart is known strikes me as quite beautiful, and is an idea that has simply not occurred to me ever before. I find myself in total agreement that our childhood experiences are a deep part of who we are as adults. Like you, I cannot abide conflict in any shape or form. it was a delight to me when my first Asian student shared with me that he did not think we ever have the right to inflict our frustrations on others simply because we felt the need to vent. I wonder if this is a typical Asian attitude because I find it to be rare among the European people in my life who always feel quite free to vent their frustrations on whoever is nearest and often dearest. Like you, I felt like a doormat until I read a verse in the Message Bible which says:Proverbs 29:21
    If you let people treat you like a doormat, you’ll be quite forgotten in the end.
    I couldn’t care less about being forgotten, but the Lord used this verse to illustrate to me that He was not happy for me to accept this position in life when He called me to be a Princess of His Realm.

    Gradually I learned ways of diverting the frustrations of others and moved from feeling like the drain hole in the kitchen-sink where everything rushed by and scoured me, to the alluvial plain of a river where the Living water passes over me always, but now leaving a rich deposit.

    I empathise with you in this and thank God  that He has also granted you wisdom, as He did me, to learn ways to deal with conflict which do not mean harm for us 🙂

    My heart is known in my work with teens from other cultures and by my very dearest friends, and most of all by Abba Father, which is all that really matters when you reach my end of life 😉

    God bless you.


    1. Sara Jones May 15, 2014

      I promise you it was a concept born out of much contemplation and struggling with transition.

      I like your comparison between a drain and a river when dealing with conflict. An Asian approach to conflict in a culture who deals with it very differently can definitely take it’s tole.

  4. Elizabeth May 15, 2014

    “Home is not only where the heart is, but where your heart is known.” LOVE this. It explains why home can be many different places/people. And it also expresses how important it is to feel understood.

  5. Marilyn May 15, 2014

    Oh I love this so much! Thank you from an adult third culture kid. Will hold this quote in my heart for years to come.

  6. NK May 15, 2014

    Home is where the heart is known….so so true! Love it 🙂

  7. Alicia May 15, 2014

    How did I not know of your blog earlier? 🙂 I am an adult TCK still struggling to fit in here. I spent the first almost all of the first 18 years of my life overseas (6 in Mexico, 6 in Honduras, 2 stateside, 4 in China)and am adopted too.  I have been stateside for 14 years now and still have many lingering traits from being overseas. No one knows this better than the father of my child. We met when after I’d only been in the states for 1.5 years and to this day I am amazed at the fact that we are still best friends after all of the many struggles we went through as I learned to assimilate to this new world I am in. I hate conflict. I don’t like meeting new people. I only truly get to know people when I know they are leaving. Every time my mother and I have to part ways (she still lives overseas), we fight over the stupidest things. I still don’t know where home is. Although going back to the last city I lived in in China (Changchun) this spring with my daughter was by far the most I’ve ever felt like going “home.” I only lived there for four years, but it was the last place my entire family was together. Sorry for the long winded post. I look forward to reading your blog.


  8. Jill May 15, 2014

    This is so beautiful.  SO beautiful.  Thank you for sharing.  As a mom raising four TCKs it really spoke to me.  And I think this sentence, “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.” is SO well spoken.  SO well spoken and can speak to all of us who field the questions on each side of the globe.  This sentence is written out of such a beautiful heart of gracious living.  Thank you.  You have put into words something I’ve never been able to.


  9. Becca Robb May 19, 2014

    Sara, I want to thank you. I really needed this right now. And it’s nice to know that you have survived so well the turmoil and confusion of continental transition. It is messy, but sometimes messy can be alright. It’s how you deal with the messiness that matters.

  10. Ian Kee May 19, 2014

    Sara, that’s a great post, you’re awesome.

  11. Deb May 19, 2014

    It is a timely camaraderie as I have been attempting to reassure our 5 yr old son (and oursleves) for the last 3 months that we are not homeless but houseless as we search to find our place back in the US. After moving over 14 times in 24 years we are at home where ever we are together which goes right along with “where our hearts are known”. Thank you for sharing your heart and being transparent so that I may glean and be filled with His peace in knowing we are not alone.


  12. Gillian May 26, 2014

    My story isn’t the same as yours, but the concept of home hasn’t always been an easy one for me either. As I read ‘home is where your heart is known’, I thought yes! That’s it! It suddenly makes sense! So thank you.

  13. Holly Hair July 13, 2014

    Sara…so well written and so insightful!  So graciously written and enlarges everyone’s perspective.  Excellent!

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