Transitory Tales: Our Endless and Impossible Journey

“Our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home.” – David Foster Wallace

Rather than listening to Taiwanese pop music and watching Taiwanese drama, I grew up studying classical music and watching American movies with my parents. My siblings and I experienced no shock to the idea of immigration, having spent every summer of our childhood in California. We knew that we would one day move away from Taipei, our hometown, to the United States.

Left to right: young Isabelle, family friend, and sister

Left to right: young Isabelle, family friend, and sister

I was fortunate to move to the Bay Area six months before the start of high school. Even though I spoke little English, school was fun. Eager to assimilate, I got out of the ESL program and into the mainstream classes with other students in a year. I actively sought for participation in the student government, sports, musical theater, jazz band, and peer helping. All of these threw me in an ecstasy because I was developing and exploring potentials in new areas.

However, one part of me still desired to fit in more. I laughed awkwardly and was embarrassed when I didn’t understand the cultural references in jokes. I struggled for the first time in my academic career in AP U.S. history class. The government system was new to me, whereas everyone else grew up hearing and reading about it. I was self-conscious with my accent. When people asked, “Sorry, what did you say?” I often thought that they couldn’t understand me because of my accent. It didn’t occur me that perhaps people just didn’t hear it the first time.

It wasn’t until I started college that I truly felt comfortable with my third culture kid identity. A big part of me had become American, yet there was always a strong Taiwanese characteristic in me. The combination of the two cultures had transformed into something unique, and I didn’t need to “fit” in by any means. This was what it meant to be American – to be unique and to bring something different to the table.

Tokyo

Embraced by this awareness, I was hungry to immerse in more cultures and expand my global perspectives. The summer before senior year in college, my intellectual curiosity brought me to Tokyo, where I worked as a research fellow at the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology. The opportunity of being surrounded by well-accomplished Ph.D. researchers and living in Japan was beyond humbling and inspiring. When I returned stateside two months later, I spent five days to repack before leaving on a jet plane to Paris. The artist in me wanted to absorb the beautiful French language and culture, so I meticulously planned out my college career, enrolling in twenty-four units each quarter (in an academic system where twelve units was the standard) in order to free up a quarter abroad. I wanted to study art and music in the place where great artists and composers came from, and I wanted to learn to live in the City of Light on my own.

Paris

Despite having dreamt to live in this romantic city for years, I didn’t immediately fall in love with it. Initially, I missed the high-tech scene and the warmth of the people in Tokyo. Over time, however, I earned the right to love Paris through moments where I rolled my eyes, cried outside of a SFR store, fought to get my apartment deposit back (in French), and eventually laughed and shrugged it all off next to the Seine with my new friends. I traveled every weekend throughout Europe (on a budget) only to return in awe by how beautiful my “home” was. Indeed, Paris had become my home.

Paris

After four months, I returned stateside once again – to complete my bachelor’s degree and two minors. Where was I? I no longer understood where “home” was for me. Just like my experience in Tokyo a few months prior, I thought about Paris everyday for a long time. I missed being in a cultural hub, where every great master musician toured and where weekly new art exhibitions premiered. A few years after graduation, I was antsy again to be somewhere new. I relocated back to San Francisco for my pursuits in music, the tech scene, and closer access to the family. The Bay Area was familiar yet so foreign this time in my adulthood. I have been fortunate to experience stimulations and inspirations in all aspects which brought me back here.

Last year, I came across David Foster Wallace’s quote, and it hit home. It was in the journey of putting myself out of my comfort zone that I actually found the most comfort. Home is not the destination, but rather, where I am right now, in this process of growing through new inspirations, epiphanies, and challenges.

I still wonder how and where I will be in a few years. My mother gasped the other day, “Where else would you go besides the Bay Area?” I smiled and answered, “I don’t know, but there are many possibilities.” After all, my place to be is in this endless and impossible journey.

16 comments

    • Isabelle says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Michael. That means a lot. I was just thinking about the changing technology over the weekend, and I thought of your stories which you shared as a gift for my birthday in our teenage years. I still keep the floppy disk in my memory box.

      I hope you are doing well!

    • isabelle says:

      Hi Joe!

      I do love NYC, so it is a possibility, heh. Who knows? :) We will see where life leads…

      I am glad you got to visit SF last month even though we missed each other. Hope to see you some time soon!

    • Isabelle says:

      Beverly,

      Thanks so much! I really have to give credits to two amazing proofreaders (NP and my brother). They know me well enough to point out awkward sentences without trying to change my voice in the article. Thanks for taking the time to read it. :)

  1. stephanie says:

    I adore, adore that quote. It’s perfect. Beautiful story, and I wish you the best of luck on your continuing journey.

  2. Jeno says:

    Beautifully written Isabelle! I LOVE Paris, I just came back from a weeklong trip. In fact, I’m planning to move there early next year :) I’m already nervous about the apartment hunt. Thanks for the lovely post!

    • isabelle says:

      Thank you, Jeno! That’s awesome you are moving there next year — I can definitely see Pastry Chef Jeno in Paris. :):) The apartment hunt will work out just fine! Will you be interning/externing at or opening a patisserie?

      • Jeno says:

        I’m going to do an internship with a French pastry chef in Barcelona for 6 months and then I’m hoping with that experience I can directly find work in Paris? I’m keeping my fingers crossed! “Pastry Chef Jeno in Paris” … I like the sound of that!

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