Leaving Home, returning Home

After my semester in Singapore ended, I packed up my belongings and traveled around Southeast Asia with my friends for a couple weeks. On my flight back to the US, I opened up the in-flight entertainment and found myself gravitating toward the movie Crazy Rich Asians, perhaps an attempt to savor the last bits of Southeast Asia. 

The first few days back in the US, I experienced bouts of what is perhaps post-travel depression. There were specific things I missed about Singapore: the familiar language, cheap food, clean public transport. But most of all, I was fazed by a feeling of indefinite in-betweenness. All my friends were either returning home or continuing their travels around the world, while I was set to conduct summer research in Philadelphia, a city that was neither new enough to inspire much excitement, nor familiar enough to call “home”. I busied myself with lab work and test prep, attempting to prevent my thoughts from wandering away to that island nation on the other side of the world, my memories abroad still fresh in my mind. 

I’ve been back in the US for two months now, with some space and time to reflect on my time abroad. I’ve settled into a new routine in Philadelphia; I’m learning to appreciate the city’s familiarity, while also rediscovering new parts of it every day. As this city grows on me, I find myself scrolling through old photos on my phone again, the memories of my semester in Singapore no longer eliciting feelings of loss, but gratitude and nostalgia. 

For me, “home” has always been nebulous and unanchored. Is it central Mass, where I spent my childhood? Shanghai, where most of my extended family resides and where I spent my teenage years? Or is it Amherst, which shaped me so drastically as a student? If these places are all my home, then Yale-NUS College has undoubtedly also grown to become a home of sorts. In a previous post I reflected on the sense of belonging I gained at the college through my multicultural identity. After a night out, I would always return “home” to my 15th floor dorm room. I appreciated the unique sense of belonging I felt to the place and its vibrant community. And it pains me to think that the next time I visit Singapore, my Yale-NUS “home” may no longer exist……

I traveled abroad hoping to navigate my multicultural identity, almost as if there was a single true answer there waiting for me to uncover. Of course, it wasn’t that simple, and if anything, my experiences abroad have only prompted me to ask more questions about myself. But at the very least, I’ve learned to acknowledge, express, and come to terms with these feelings of doubt and uncertainty. I realize that these blog posts have prompted much of my reflection and introspection, and I feel that I am able to write in a way that is more genuine than before. I’ve discovered the cathartic release that comes with conveying emotions in a raw and unfiltered way. 

When my friend from my semester abroad came to visit me in Philly a couple of weeks ago, we decided to explore the local Southeast Asian Market. We were pleasantly surprised by the large SEA community there: most vendors were 1st or 2nd generation immigrants of Thai or Cambodian heritage, and many only spoke in their native tongue. Our senses were overwhelmed: by the aroma of pad thai and sizzling satay, by the sounds of oil bubbling in a wok and papaya salad pounded in the mortar. Before anything else we ordered sugarcane juice, a staple beverage at hawker centers in Singapore. Each sip was cool and refreshing, a sweet taste of home. 

The Southeast Asian Market – a community of refugee and immigrant vendors gathering at Philly’s FDR Park every weekend

Leaving home – the flight from Shanghai to Singapore

To my friends, peers, and professors at Yale-NUS: thank you for making it my home ❤

Leave a Reply