All I want to do is walk down the streets of Shibuya one more time with my mother, hearing the Japanese I grew up with spoken around me. All I want is to smell street food cooking in the noisy bustle and pollution of Jakarta and appreciate the rapidly disappearing beauty of the Indonesian jungles as I walk through the dense Sumatran forest with my estranged father. All I want is to argue with one more Croatian man about the price of his oranges in Zagreb’s Saturday market and to jump on the trampoline for hours with my cousins on my grandparents’ land in rural Oregon, all while knowing none of this will happen again.
As the daughter of a U.S. diplomat, I’ve never lived in any country longer than four years, my entire family packing up our lives and transplanting ourselves into a new culture any time my father’s job called for it. After years of trying to find home, I now balance many cultures and practices into a unique and ever-changing identity in search of peace and community.
I will always remember my first transition from the clean, nearly militaristically organized city of Tokyo to the chaos of Jakarta at seven years old. I was forced to adapt immediately, quickly learning to avoid strangers, dancing monkeys, and tap water. I found peace and joy in the gentle lights that illuminated the city at night, mastered leaping off the buses that never truly stopped, and cultivated both language and social skills. This process of learning and exploring allowed me to appreciate the differences in every culture and find comfort in it, even if they were contrary to what I was used to.
However, no matter how much I worked to blend in, my accent, appearance, and demeanor have made me an outlier. My Japanese peers never approved of my American father attending traditional ceremonies. I shared food and played with neighborhood children in Indonesia, but returned to a gated apartment that loomed twenty stories above theirs. In Croatia, locals gave my Japanese mother and I dirty looks while treating my father like an equal. Being excluded from places I considered home forced me to become resilient, to accept the differences between the people I lived amongst and to accept that I would never be who everyone else wanted me to be.
When feeling secluded overseas, I looked forward to returning to America because I believed I would finally find my own community in the diverse country I represented my whole life. However, when I returned to the States for high school, my peers’ lack of international awareness and disregard for people other than themselves was the most heartbreaking culture shock I’ve ever experienced. If I ever bowed to my teacher, wrote my 7s strangely, ate foreign foods for lunch or held my cutlery the “European way”, I was met with criticism, whispers from the back of the classrooms and glares from my peers. Whenever I returned to the U.S. I felt more secluded than ever; I couldn't turn to anyone about my curiosities, my fascination with history and the effects it has on society now, my hunger for travel and trying to help those in need.
However, the beauty of living nomadically is that I know anywhere can be home. Regardless of language or cultural barriers, I can connect to new people and find empathy and solidarity with their struggles. Some of my best memories are meeting Syrian refugees that escaped to Croatia or Indonesian villagers whose homes were decimated by tsunamis. Whether it was through playing soccer or finding cultural commonalities as simple as our love for rice, we would laugh at our inability to communicate fluently and know that regardless of what we were saying, it was light-hearted and meant with kindness. Hearing their stories and wisdom, learning from experiences, and seeing their humanity helped me find comfort, or the semblance of “home,” when I’ve never truly experienced it in the most traditional sense.
Thanks to my upbringing, I’ve learned to weave new customs into my identity and build my own community. I’ve worked to create an unorthodox home for myself, cultivating relationships with people that accept me and working to create a community where everyone feels included. I’ve learned to celebrate differences and find commonalities with those around me, trying to create a home for everyone. And wherever I go next, I know I’ll strive to create a new home for myself and others, hopefully making the world a better place for everyone along the way.