As someone who dreads the inevitable question of “Where are you from?” I’ve learned a crafty answer to the complicated question. For people I will never see again, I’ll say I’m from Michigan, citing a city I lived in for at least a year or two. Sometimes, if I’m feeling bold, I’ll lie and make up a hometown, usually a place I’ve at least visited — Baltimore, Connecticut or Auckland. During classroom introductions, my M.O. is omitting the hometown part of the line of questioning and hoping no one notices.
But for those who I will see on a regular basis, I have to at least try to tell the truth: I don’t have a hometown. “It’s complicated” I often start, followed by “I moved around a lot” or “I was born in Michigan, but I lived overseas for a lot of my life.”
This, of course, always leads to follow up questions of where and when, but then most people forget without truly understanding.
Growing up around the globe was the most incredible, rewarding experience I could have asked for. In my lifetime, I have lived in three countries and nine houses. I’ve traveled to more countries than the number of years I’ve been on this earth by a margin of almost 10. I’ve spent Thanksgiving watching the sunrise over the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia; Christmas in Auckland, New Zealand, at a McDonald’s, waiting to catch a flight to Christchurch; and New Year’s watching the fireworks off the banks of Venice.
But with all the glory and adventure associated with my third-culture kid life, there are hardships that have left scars on my personality. I’ve lost more best friends than most kids have in a lifetime. No one outside of my immediate family can really claim they’ve known me my whole life. I don’t have a specific place to call home.
While most kids counted down the days to summer, I dreaded it, because a summer never passed when a friend — or myself — didn’t move away. I remember numerous days spent crying as yet another best friend moved away.
And this sentiment carried over into my life at college. Coming to the University of Michigan, I thought finally I would have an uninterrupted four years where no one would leave me, but this illusion was quickly shattered. At a school with a 97-percent retention rate, two of my friends made plans to transfer. With a class size of approximately 6,000, this meant just 180 people would leave — and I was best friends with two of them.
During my last week of exams, I watched all of my friends go home for the summer as I prepared to remain in Ann Arbor, with my family still 7,000 miles away. I tried my best to keep myself together as I watched my best friends pack up their rooms, knowing they would not be returning. Somehow I managed to hide my despair as I waved goodbye after they packed their final boxes, but as soon as their backs were turned, I ran up to my room to wallow. This wasn’t supposed to happen here. I was supposed to have four whole years.
A friend told me the other day that she thought I hated her when we first met because I was so quiet. I’m sorry to anyone if I seem that way. It’s hard sometimes to let myself make friends when I live with the constant expectation that they will just leave again soon.
And friendships are not the only difficult aspect. In part, I’ve come dislike most holidays since returning to the United States. You could argue that I’ve simply become spoiled from my glamourous travels, but my issue mostly stems from a lack of real tradition or sentiment attached to them — especially Thanksgiving.
Last year at Thanksgiving I discovered what it is like to be the only person living in South Quad. Fun fact: If no one else is using the showers, there is no warm water. That weekend I watched Netflix and called home at a predetermined time, accounting for the 12-hour time difference to see my family enjoying the few days off with a vacation in Gui Lin, China. I would check Instagram and Facebook and see other people’s family photos and golden turkeys, while hiding under the covers in my empty dorm room.
With every passing holiday my first year in college, I was reminded of what normal kids do — Memorial Day barbecues, giant Christmas parties with extended family, New Year’s bashes with hometown friends. These are all things I didn’t feel like I missed out on until suddenly I had no family and no adventure to supplement traditional activities.
But this year, Thanksgiving will be different. Instead of 20 hours via plane from me, my family is a 30-minute drive down the highway — with no traffic. I can go home not only for Christmas but for Mid-Autumn Festival and Thanksgiving or just to do laundry.
Nonetheless, this new home isn’t my hometown. I don’t have childhood memories playing in the backyard. I have no childhood friends waiting. Those memories and those people are scattered in India, China, Singapore, the United Kingdom and many others.
But just because I lack a hometown doesn’t mean I lack a home. Home may not be a city filled with a string of memories dating back to my first steps. It may not come with a collection of friends who have known me since kindergarten. But home is where I walk in the door to be greeted by my energetic Border collie. Home is where I can eat rice and stir fry every day while laughing at the dinner table with my sisters. Home isn’t about the place, it’s about the people, the feeling and the atmosphere.
And this new home in Random Suburb No. 9 is only temporary. Already my family discussions center around the next step, the next place. Los Angeles, Rio, Stockholm, Tijuana. But no matter if home is thousands of miles away or just a few blocks down the road, I know it will always be there for me.