There will always be a point in your life when you will feel lost, when you look in the mirror and you don’t recognize who you’ve become and you’re starting to lose grip on what you’re meant to do. This feeling, for me, accumulated over the course of last year, and this is why: all my life I have never really felt like I belonged to a single place. I am a second generation Chinese immigrant and living in London I was just considered ‘Asian’. Then once I moved to an American boarding school two years ago, I was solely considered ‘British.’ All of these different labels constantly influenced my life and how others perceived me; I started to lose track of where my home really was.
Then by complete coincidence, last March, a family friend who stopped by London, asked to have lunch with me. The one thing I really took away from that lunch was this: he said to me: “It is very important for everyone at some point in their lives to learn about their family’s past, their heritage and truly embrace it.” Honestly, I didn’t think that that would help me find my true home, but it wouldn’t hurt: I thought only positives would come out of learning about my heritage. Which brings us to the trip…
The Six Week Mandarin Language Intensive Dragons Course. There were many reasons why I convinced myself to pursue this program; however, the most important one was to try to ‘embrace’ my Chinese heritage, something that I have been neglecting for a long time. I hoped that something good would come out of being around the culture in which my parents grew up. However, every time I would start speaking broken Chinese to strangers, every person looked at me like I was crazy. In the country of my heritage, the place where I should belong, I have never felt so isolated: a westerner in the façade of a Chinese man. And every single day reminded me of this divide. Then I thought long and hard. I thought for a long time on this trip and finally I asked myself, “Why do you have to belong to a place? Who said those are the rules?” In the end, it was this specific group that helped me find the answer.
If you take fourteen like-minded, kind, and curious individuals and put them into a group, the community they would form would turn into something special. From the start, everyone bonded quickly and I could already see the connections forming between us. Once I realized I did not belong in China, I would look back at this group and what struck me was that every single person made a unique contribution to the group dynamic. Then I realized even if we didn’t always feel like we belonged in China, we did belong with each other.
And at last, I got back into art, my passion, and it was beautiful. Chinese painting was new yet nostalgic; every stroke felt as natural as when I used to sketch as a kid. Swirling the brush gave me such a powerful feeling. And I felt in complete control and fully comfortable while doing so. Art will always make me feel at home.
Belonging. It is not always a physical place; it encompasses all the constants that ground us. And our lives move extraordinarily fast and sometimes we can lose grip of what is happening. Our lives are so fluid and changeable that we will always need a cornerstone to help stabilize them and that can be what we call our home. For some people, their cornerstones will be a specific location (now I know it just wasn’t like that for me), for others, they will know certain special people for the rest of their lives or a passion that will they will always have. So here we are at the end of this journey, and I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for creating a new cornerstone in one another. Everyone here will always be there. And now I am one step closer to coming home.