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The Girl Who Never Gets Homesick

Creative commons photo Shai Barzilay
Creative commons photo Shai Barzilay

On May 14th last summer, I was enjoying a casual layover at Istanbul Airport and my brief immersion into Turkish culture, when I suddenly started to wonder where exactly I was going. Technically speaking, I was going back home. But where counts as “home”?

I grew up in a traditional Chinese family in Hubei, with loving and bubbly parents and, more importantly, a cute younger sister, which makes a lot of my peers jealous. I love my family deeply, but I never felt compelled to stay in Hubei forever, even though it’s common in China to stay with your parents until your 20s or even 30s.

This is probably why I insisted on going to a university in Beijing after graduating from my high school, even though my parents kept asking, “Won’t you miss home?” “Not really,” was my response - I believed that there was going to be a new “home” in that new environment.

Unsurprisingly, my parents asked the question—“Won’t you miss home?”— again, after I decided to transfer to University of Virginia. Even though overcoming language barriers and making friends with native English speakers remain challenges for me, and I was very clear about the fact that adjusting to life abroad takes longer, that wasn't going to prevent me from exploring a new life and education.

Due to my outgoing personality—which a lot of people relate to my English name, “Sunny”—I quickly made friends and my transition to life here at U.Va was comparatively smooth. I got involved in Chi Alpha, a large Christian fellowship on campus, and formed a happy family with a wonderful group of sisters.

I got accustomed to and enjoyed life here so much so that I almost felt like I was leaving “home” when I flew back to my “home” in China. And as I set in Istanbul waiting to take the last leg of my journey, this feeling was why I found myself asking, “Where counts as home?”

The differences in my life at “home” when I returned for summer only strengthened that feeling.

My family suddenly realized that their daughter had changed a lot since she left for the U.S. while, I was not only re-adjusting to a new time zone but also to a different life than what I had been immersed in at U.Va.

Culture shock and conflict were inevitable in this process of mutually adjusting to each other. For example, my mom would yell, “Why are you eating raw vegetable?” at me whenever I made myself salad; before I went to hang out with my friends, my dad would always frown at my shorts bought in the U.S., which he considered “too short.”

When friction occurred, I wondered whether I was really at home. If so, why would someone need to adjust to her own home?

Coming back to U.Va meant going back to things that I had gotten so used to, like eating “raw vegetable.” My parents kept saying they missed me over Skype, and asked me whether I felt homesick and wished I could spend more time at home. Honestly, I did not, and more interestingly, coming back to school felt like coming back “home.” I was back to school mode and back with familiar faces, buildings, and events.

Then, to my surprise, came the moment when I first felt really homesick. It was after last year’s Thanksgiving break. During my house’s catch-up dinner, my American housemates talked a lot about fun things that their families did together as Thanksgiving traditions. All of a sudden, the picture of me, my parents, and my younger sister having dinner together emerged in my mind.

“How I wish I could be together with my family and I could show my gratitude to them,” I started weeping. My sweet housemates came to me, hugged me, and said the same thing one after another, “ We are your family and here is your home.” At that moment, I realized what was “home” for me. I have two homes, in China and Charlottesville, because I have “family” members in both of the places that love me so much.

Editor: Tom Collier