Too Foreign for Home, Too Foreign for Here

As far as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to travel the world, and live in different cities and experience different cultures. By the time I was in High School, I was ready to jump headfirst into a global adventure with arms spread wide open, and now, having lived in New Mexico, Rhode Island, New York, Hong Kong, Oxford, London, and Kuala Lumpur, and having travelled and worked in many more countries, I have absolutely no regrets.

But Dorothy was right: There is no place like home. As I journey through life, it’s comforting to know that a cozy bed, my mother’s heavenly cooking, and the eager barks of my dogs await in the snowcapped mountains of Bhutan, just a plane ride away.

Where is home?

However, the more time I spend abroad, the harder I’m finding it to feel completely at home, at home. Once I step out of the walls of my house, I often feel like I’m desperately trying to play catchup in a world that’s moved on despite my absence – and picked up new habits and quirks that are unfamiliar to the time I was a part of it. Whenever people ask me ‘What’s it like to live in Bhutan?’ my response is a superficial account painted against the backdrop of summer holidays and weekend hiking trips – not the reality of a functioning adult ‘living’ there.

But at the same time, it’s not like I can wholly claim that any one of the other places that I’ve lived in the last 15 years is my home either. These are places that I have loved and embraced, but they were never technically my ‘home’. Even as I sit here writing this essay from my cozy apartment in Kuala Lumpur, I’ve never felt completely settled in. There is always this nagging restlessness at the back of my mind – the voice that says ‘this, too, is temporary’

Part of me will always be somewhere else

Don’t get me wrong — I’m incredibly grateful that I get to do what I do, but the vastness of my past experience means that I have never truly felt completely at home anywhere, because a part of me will always be somewhere else. This is the price I pay for the richness of living in so many places, and meeting so many incredible people along the way.

I love that no matter where I go in this world, I will always know someone. Over time, I’ve come to embrace this restless energy inside of me, because it has propelled me to keep moving, to keep exploring and learning. It has kept my curiosity and hunger alive.

But sometimes it wears me down. I constantly find myself thinking about the next move, always on the look out for the next big adventure – never present. Always planning and never completely grounded long enough for roots to grow.

Home is a feeling

When you’re incessantly searching for something bigger than yourself, the experience of living in new places and meeting new people gives you a better chance of finding that. I understand that mobility is a privilege afforded to few, and I try not to take mine for granted.

Ultimately I’m trying to collect all the places, faces, names, gestures, words, and glances as fodder to not only define my own identity, but also as the fuel to create something bigger than myself. Without the joys and the tragedies of all my (not so) chance encounters, I wouldn’t have the privilege to do what I do now.

In those moments where I’m questioning my every being, I’ve learned to tell myself that home isn’t a place – it is a state of being. Home is balance and reconciliation. It is that feeling of comfort and belonging – one that I have fortunately been able to recreate in every single place I’ve lived in. Home is defined less by the physical structures we live in and more by the people and the experiences we create for ourselves.

One day I hope I will make peace with my demons and that the chaos in my heart will settle flat. And maybe for the first time, life will smile right back at me and welcome me home.

Wherever that might be.

Diaspora Blues

“So,

here you are

too foreign for home

too foreign for here.

never enough for both.”

– Ijeoma Umebinyuo

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