Perhaps being 21 doesn’t change anything that is happening in my life, who I am at this stage, what I am doing, and how I define myself or interact with others. However, it does serve as a mark — a mark for me to pause, to reflect, and to think about the past. As a I turned 21, one of the concepts that I have been thinking about is…. home.
I never know what the definite answer is to respond with when people ask me “Where is home for you?” Home can be Hue, Vietnam, where I built up childhood memories that I am always fond of recollecting; Jacksonville, Florida, where I struggled but then grew up tremendously in a compressed period of time to lead a “normal” life; Cambridge, Massachusetts where I have built monumental experience and friendships that have challenged and expanded my perspectives, stretched my knowledge of the world, and shaped my future trajectories in visible and invisible ways. Yet, I guess the most instinctive and most frequent response I have used to answer this question is “Vietnam.”
Vietnam is one of the places where I call home. It is where I find comfort and familiarity, where I feel belonged, and is definitely the first place I think of going to when I think about holidays. Each time I return to Vietnam, I feel like I’m coming home.
….Coming home is creating nostalgia because it reminds me of my childhood memories, of my favorite street vendors to stop by on my way back from school, of the troubles I ran into for misbehaving, of the river where I kicked out so many pairs of new shoes while playing “catch” with my neighbors.
….Coming home is also hard. It is hard because once I have left Vietnam, I inevitably have set myself apart as someone else who is not truly and 100% Vietnamese culturally. I have also set expectations for others to think that I will be different when I return. When I return, people expect me to be more American, to act and think more like Americans, and to fit in with the images of American culture portrayed on social media. It is unavoidable to find that people can tell me apart by the way I dress, the tone I speak, and the mix of English words I use here and there when I talk to others. When I come home, people no longer see me the way I see myself, but they see me in the eyes of their own expectations.
…Coming home makes me feel conscious and amazed by how quickly and how much I have changed, even just within several months. My parents and friends preserve the last version of me the last time I see them and remind me of what I told them and what I was been thinking of the last time I was back home. They preserve a screenshot of my last self in their memories, and remind me of who I was several months or couple years ago. Then, at times, I feel distant from my previous self, and start questioning the silly thoughts and comments that I have made, to then also sometimes find myself appreciating how much I have grown or changed within just a short amount of time.
…Coming home always goes with leaving home and saying goodbye to the beautiful memories I have built with people I have known for years or people I simply have just met by chance and yet have gotten so close to in such a short amount of time. Each time I leave, I carry with me physical and mental photographs of these memories, and a feeling of nostalgia blended with appreciation and sadness. I carry with me a greater bond to the place that I leave behind, and an even stronger connection to the people that I have met and spent time with.
Time only goes forward. But I’m glad that I have memories to look back and to appreciate. Time has molded me so that each time I come home again, I will find a different me, with different ambitions, different goals, and different interests. Yet, one thing stays constant, and that is the sense of nostalgia, the sense of amazement at how much I have changed, and the sense of appreciation for the people I have spent time with and experience I have come across that I take away with me in photos and in memories each time I come home.