I wrote this several months ago, thought of keeping it to myself only, but the feelings and the situation constantly repeats as time goes on. This may be a shared feeling for many international students living far away from home, and I hope that you know you are not alone in this vicious cycle of struggling to diminish the cultural shocks between your roots and your grown up experience that is unique to your family.
I knew that she had an early flight, because I had definitely checked for more than however many times just few days before her departure. On 23rd of June, I carried her heavy luggage full of winter clothes that I could not take away with me, and we squeezed our way into the RER B train. I was aimlessly reading people’s face in the metro trying not to think about the next time I take the metro with my own luggage. She sat in the crowd and held our breakfast in her hands: our favorite quinoa salad from Eric Kayser, which is one thing she likes from here and could not find it back home. I knew that she wouldn’t get used to the taste of my favorite wine and cheese only after twenty days, but after all I was glad that we had something that we both like to have for breakfast.
The metro ride was humid and nearly suffocating, and the sticky air full of human scents distracted me from thinking of a proper goodbye to her. When we finally entered the check-in counter at the lobby of Charles du Guelle Airport, I felt a shiver in my back that reminded me of her departure and I did not know when would be the next time I get to spend time like this with her. She looked even sadder, just like how she had been telling me in the past few days when we travelled together that she only wants to spend more time with me because she has missed me so much in the past years when I was not by her side.
We sat down by the custom entrance and took our breakfast out of the paper bags. She opened the cover of the salad, looking at it but she did not move her spoon. I put down my spoon and stopped eating to look at her because I knew that she had something to say.
“Do you know when will you come home next time?”
“I am not sure, maybe this winter?” I paused a little and felt like I need to explain my answer, “ You know that it is so hot in Taiwan during the summer, and besides, I think I am going to have quite a fulfilling summer in Paris.”
“You sure are having a great time here, but just let us know what you decide. Come back when you can or whenever you want to come home.”
“Of course. I always do that.” I meant it, I always try to go home when I get a vacation, and I didn’t want to make this into another unpleasant conversation.
We then went on some small talks, mostly about family members whom I seldom see. We talked about my grandmas, cousins, uncles, and other relatives. People I always hear updates about, but never any live information. I told her about my summer plan in Paris and she nodded without responding to details, then took a big bite of the salad and asked:
“Do you remember the three tasks that I gave you when I am gone?”
“Um…yeah. You want me to find the path of my future that will make me happy and fulfilling. The second one is to take care of my health and relationships and to find the balance between my Asian roots and the western culture. Right? ”
“Good. I really meant it when I say do not forget about your Asian roots. We understand that we have sent you abroad and your views of the world have become wider and different from us, but we want you to remember that you are one of us.”
I felt a hard squeeze in my heart. It is a kind of feeling you get when you see your puppy being taken away to another family and you are so helpless and vulnerable to change anything.
“I know. I am glad that we finally talked this through this time, about our different points of view and your culture shock from me.” I did not want to continue on this topic, so I tried to distract her but only achieved short-term success. The clock was ticking, so she returned to what she needed to know.
“Have you thought about where you want to be after you graduate?”
“I am not sure…but I think I will look into all these places, the U.S, Europe and Asia.” I wanted to tell her again how much I adore my life in Europe and how has living in Paris has inspired me on how to live my life, but I couldn’t finalize my thought soon enough until she told me about hers.
“Well, mom wants you close to home, and the Chinese economy is thriving! But you will let us know.”
Just like that, she took away my voice and stuffed my mind with her thoughts. I felt like a newborn baby who could not articulate what is in her head, and in exchange I can only be fed with food coming from love and care. I also felt like an angry teenager, even words couldn’t validate my confusion and exacerbating self-esteem. The truth is, I did not want to throw words that will hurt her, because it has done enough damage in the past five years and beyond that I want her to know more than just her rebellious child. But how selfish is it that, for her, to ask me to return to the place that I find the least of myself in? Having to live so freely and independently from the chitchat at home for five years, I have become so adapted to this life that I trust my own judgment with great confidence and even more so I have discovered more of myself, which is perhaps the self that my family never knew about me.
I took a sip of the sparkling water to cool down my inflaming exasperation towards the nonsense I heard. The gazing spring water streamed down my dry throat and soothed my provoked mind. I was calmer, but how could she, how could she expects me to leave all that I have known and built up in the past five years just to return to somewhere against my will and wishes? I began to reflect, have I gone too wild for her? What is she worrying about, because there should be absolutely nothing to worry about after my adaption of culture in the past five year. I even made friends of lifetime, and I see great opportunities ahead of me… how could she … my mother… but wait, it was never her intention to send me further and further away until I never want to return to home. I am on the edge of making the decision that she has been afraid of hearing the most, which is to settle away and far away from home. What a classic western decision that deviates from all knowledge and upbringing in my Asian root, and what a horrifying suggestion it must be to my parents that I am leaving them indefinitely ever since I was sixteen.
I used to hold on to her
So tightly and stubbornly
Where have I gone?
There is a traditional saying in Chinese that goes “as the wings get fuller, the more eager the youngster wants to fly far away”, and adults at home always say this phrase with a bittersweet tone. I have always found independency a natural desire, but perhaps I have fast-forwarded this coming of age process slightly too quickly for my loving family. Ever since sixteen, every family dinnertime has become ‘family facetime date’, but I have never thought of it as sometimes unfortunate or regretting. It was a decision that I have made with great desire, and I was too young to understand the struggles went through my parents’ heads.
I swallowed my rebellious words and instead I told her:
“Yeah, China is where the opportunities are and of course I will consider it.”
She smiled with approval and began to eat. Her smile was so comforting and it assured me that I had said the right thing.
It wasn’t a lie. What was more important at that moment was not what I wanted, but what she wanted for me. We are family, and maybe she will never understand what has changed and shaped me other than home, but she will always know that part of me from the family.
There are so much more to tell
My thoughts were as vast as the open ocean
I looked out from the window
Lost in my stream of thoughts
Twenty days, it was too little time for me to compress my life and lessons learned in the past five years when I was absorbing everything else that was nowhere to be learned from home.
Fourteen hours, it is more than enough for my parents to ever imagine being the distance between my family and myself.
I gave her a long hug and told her to text me when she lands. Even more so I also promised her to remember the three reminders she gave me without her bringing them up again. I sent her to the security line and watched her slowly blended into the busy crowd. I still did not know how she felt every time when she sent me away, because I don’t have a child, I don’t know how it feels to let go of my child.
The reason why we won’t tell you about the hardest thing as a student abroad and leaving home during your prime time to grow and learn is not because we are too bitter to share our experience. We are sometimes incapable of finding words that could articulate this cultural shock between our family and ourselves. When you have become a new person whom your family can no longer predict your next step. You need to share your next steps and steps you have already taken, or else the gap only deepens. You will always want to run away, because neither do you want to hurt your family or to get hurt by them. But hold on, be patient, always give it a try and then maybe run away again. Not too far where they can no longer reach you, but not to close where they can always find you.
We are constantly leaving, staying, returning to home, or to a brand new world that could eventually become our home. We are always exploring, and our family is the pure reason of why we have such privileged opportunity to see and to experience this beautiful world.
And now, I am on another flight that takes off from home, to where I feel both lost and belonged.