Transitory Tales: When There is No Home, Every Place Becomes Home

I spent the majority of my life thinking that home was elsewhere. So when asked to share my thoughts on living abroad, I am compelled to first define ‘home’ in my own terms, as ‘abroad’ suggests somewhere other than home.  Is it the place where you and I were born, or where our family resides? Perhaps to some, home refers to a more abstract place, where we feel our hearts belong. But have you ever thought that home might just be a term that limits us from all the places where we could be?

Jakarta, my home before I knew what that meant

Between the ages of nine to fourteen, I felt trapped in a small beach town called Dana Point in California with my mom and sisters, desperately waiting for each school year to pass and for each summer to arrive, when I was able to be where I thought I belonged, back at my hometown in Jakarta, Indonesia with my dad and brother. But as I became older and more aware, I noticed that the Jakarta I had considered as home was rapidly changing, and I felt adrift because I no longer knew where I felt most at home. By then, my mom, sisters, and I were living in a different city not too far away called Irvine, where I went to high school and met long-lasting friends. Even still, I still fundamentally felt that it wasn’t my home and that I needed to find a place that fit me. And my proactive seventeen-year-old self found the answer by moving to the other side of country: New York City. And because I was there on account of my own doing, I consciously decided this was it—I was home.

One image of home for NYU-ers

Incredibly enough, what I have learned from the prolonged feeling of “homelessness” after I moved to the US is that when there is no place to call home, then every place could potentially be a home and, more importantly, would be if you allow it to be one. It’s a strange, contradictory mindset that makes a whole lot of sense to me—I don’t call one place home, so I essentially feel at home regardless of where I am.

Shanghai, my fleeting home

So since moving to New York, I have been home in Shanghai for four months of study abroad program, returned home to Irvine for a year after college graduation, and now I am home in Bali for my sixth month. I came here because of a fantastic opportunity to work with Kopernik, an NGO working in international development with a model that I passionately believe in. When I learned that they are based in Ubud of Bali, only a two-hour plane ride away from my family in Jakarta, how could I resist?

I have eased into life here not because I’m Indonesian and thus it was easier for me to adjust; it’s been nearly 14 years since I’ve lived in this country, and when I did live here, it was in the tail end of the Suharto era, during which any display of Chinese cultural heritage—mine—was discouraged and banned. Moreover, local Balinese speak a dialect that is altogether different than the subpar Bahasa Indonesia I speak. How could I ever feel Indonesian under such circumstances? No, I have eased into life here because I learned to not resist all the good things that make Bali home for so many others and are hard to come by when you are engrossed by the idea of home being elsewhere. In that way, I am here neither as an Indonesian nor foreigner, and so I feel free and extremely lucky.

And this is how I hope to be wherever I go, next stop being Oahu in Hawaii at the end of the year. Having spent more than half my life in America will mean practically nothing in Hawaii because it is wildly different than the mainland. Does this make me feel scared, anxious, or thrilled to move? Of course—moving to any new location, without a doubt, will stir up those emotions. But ultimately I am at ease because when the wave of feelings subsides, I know that Hawaii, just like any other place in this world where I might serendipitously end up in the future, is just another home waiting for me to call it one.

Home now…

…and later

Photo of Jakarta from jeffigy via Flickr

4 comments

  1. Melissa says:

    “when there is no place to call home, then every place could potentially be a home and, more importantly, would be if you allow it to be one.”

    I love this! I feel the same way :) Thank you for sharing, Cindy! This was beautiful.

  2. Justine says:

    Cindy, this is lovely! I can so HEAR you in this post. I’m excited to see where your next adventure will take you. Glad I met you on the way.

  3. Cee says:

    This really inspires thinking… I wonder if “home” is where you feel a sense of purpose and hence, a sense of belonging

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