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TCK Diaries: Heading Home

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Betty Chen is a Third Culture Kid who has lived in Taiwan, Thailand and the United States. For the next few weeks, she will be blogging on Denizen as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery.

The last time I hit a quarter-life crisis, I moved across the country to a city where I knew only three people and started a job in a company of 1,000 employees. Just because I was bored.

Now it’s quarter-life crisis #2. Having just been laid-off, I began re-prioritizing my life. This was an opportunity of a lifetime. With my 100 hour work weeks, I used to dream about what I would do if I could just take one day off. Sleep in. Go to the park. Read in a coffee shop. Make dinner. Call an old friend. Finish a bottle of red wine by myself. I was overjoyed to realize that for the first time in my life, I was able to do all this… and more.

Now that I was in charge of my timeline, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I booked a flight home to Bangkok. But with the massive floods going on, I had to make some adjustments. So, the first stop was my secondary home base of Taipei, Taiwan.

While I was born in Taipei, and visited frequently growing up, I had not spent much time there as an adult. I had grown detached from my own home country, and this was my chance to reclaim my roots. In a TCK world, it is not uncommon to find our families fragmented around the world. In my re-prioritized life, I wanted to spend time with family, and finally make those family reunions I had been missing.

Returning to Taiwan felt like any other previous visit: Eating at favorite restaurants. Gathering at family dinners. Shrieking over how cheap shoes were. Showing my 90-year-old grandma exactly where in the world Chicago was, and then patiently explaining to why I lived so far away.

But yet, something was innately different about my visit this time around. Having allowed myself more time there, Taiwan was ripe for rediscovery. I traveled around the island sightseeing new places, and revisiting familiar sites. I paid attention to Asian history and its impact on my own country. I discovered new food (a feat in itself considering that I’ve done my share of eating). Above all, I deepened my relationship with my very big family of loud relatives, cousins and nephews. I was no longer a foreign object they saw once in awhile who flitted in and out of the country. I became one of them, of the family.

To me, Taiwan represented a neglected relationship that had grown apart, mostly because of the lack of effort on my part. This three week trip was the longest I’d ever spent there since I was a child, and the forlorn country proved to be charming, fun and even romantic at times.

With the floods finally receding, I will be heading to Bangkok, Thailand next. It’s the city I spent 18 years in, but because of its fast-paced growth, it’s perpetually foreign each time I come home. This time I will be able to see home through the different lenses of friends visiting and my 10 year high school reunion. I know, right? Say it isn’t so.

I often find it ironic and a bit difficult to explain the fact that I find my own home countries so foreign, despite spending the majority of my life there. This journey of homecoming and self-discovery will hopefully, and finally, give me the chance to belong somewhere.

If you had an unlimited amount of time to explore the world — would you go home? What would be the first thing you’d do?

3 Comments

  1. “The last time I hit a quarter-life crisis, I moved across the country to a city where I knew only three people and started a job in a company of 1,000 employees. Just because I was bored.” I think that is the foundation of the concept. I was raised in the poorest of poor in africa and moved to the states at 12 very quickly in the states I excelled in business made a lot of money and lived the dream. I bought my first house when I was 18 and I came from the dirt of mozambique. It really took making money too young to rock my world and allow me to find the real. Now my priorities are food, time and people, not necessarily in that order, and I learned to appreciate learning and found I have a passion for spreading that desire to understand everything we can to the fullest extent possible. Now I get the greatest satisfaction seeing a gringo american’s eyes light up when they click/get it. There is something indescribable and powerful about waking that up in people and I believe if we can find a way to bridge the miscommunications between cultures humans are capable of doing things beyond our wildest dreams.

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  2. K-eM says

    I’d definitely go home to where I grew up. Not my passport culture. Since it’s a village with a hospital, an extensive eye clinic, school for the blind, and leprosy treatment I’d find a way to help out. Especially in the area of income generation for people with physical limitations and little family help. I’d love to set something up that isn’t run by expats, but by locals for locals and is sustainable on local resources.

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  3. suzi w. says

    Give me a ticket and I’d hop a plane to Warsaw, Poland (not my passport culture at all). My parents and sibs moved there when I started college (in the States) and when I visited over breaks, it was the first time I could explore a “foreign” city on my own. I loved exploring it then and always dream of going back, knowing it will be so different, 20 years later.

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