Transitory Tales: A Stranger in Her Hometown

tran·si·to·ry  adj \ˈtran(t)-sə-ˌtȯr-ē, ˈtran-zə-\
1 : tending to pass away : not persistent
2 : of brief duration : temporary <the transitory nature of earthly joy>
— tran·si·to·ri·ly adverb
— tran·si·to·ri·ness noun

Examples of TRANSITORY
1. the transitory nature of earthly pleasures
2. <a transitory panic struck me when I realized that we had left the baby in the car>

All my life, I’ve felt the transitory nature of life. I have a handful of close friends, but have always felt different, an outsider to my peers. It was after periods of living abroad, in Chicago, in Paris, in Beijing, that I realized, the transitory feeling came from not the physical nature of moving around, but from a state of mind. Living abroad and traveling extensively has been conducive to an inward journey to embracing the stranger in myself.

In your life you end up back where you started.. The difference is you understand it the second time around.
“Cadillac Jukebox – James L. Burke.

Shedding a new light
Surrounded by a homogenous group till 17, I arrive in Chicago shellshocked.  Wow, there are guys in the classroom! (I went to a girls’ school all my life)  Wow, teachers allow and actually merit class participation and debate! (“Raise your hand before you speak” was the code of conduct) Wow, most friends don’t wake up till noon on Saturdays! (My Mandarin lessons start at 9 sharp in the morning)

The sharp contrast with my previous life in Hong Kong began to shed light upon where my culture, upbringing and personality stand compared to a diverse environment.  Eventually, most of these “wow”s became normal to me, some of which I even adopted, and some I had consciously kept away from.

An opportunity to take risks
No matter how much you can feel like a stranger in the hometown, you’re inevitably interconnected in the social web.  “Your mother used to work with my aunt!”  “Oh, my cousin went to the same music camp last year!”  Being a true nobody when I first got to a new city, be it Chicago, Paris or Beijing, was a relief.  The freedom to redefine, test out new waters, without having to explain to anyone.

Catalyst for change
For exactly the reason above, being abroad has been a catalyst for breaking away from the existing orbit, going off tangents temporarily and even permanently.  Just like Chicago shaped my education and international exposure, my brief stint in Beijing shaped my entrepreneurial dreams and encouraged me to take the leap from my career in investment banking to technology startup.

Back where I started, I still feel like a stranger at times.  However the transitory feeling is now gone, and replacing it, is a firm grounding of who I am, no matter which next destination life takes me.

(Photo Credit: World Map, Owen Gatley, Hong Kong Streets, Tropical Island)

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