Once upon a time, I dreamt of making my way out of home in search of greener pastures. More specifically, to escape an educational system that reduced students to numerical values. And if that sounded grandiose and cringey to you, I’ll let you know it sounds that way to me too. My thirteen-year-old self’s angst, while not unfounded, was thirteen-year-old angst. In typical teen angst fashion, I attributed all my troubles to the root cause of society and marked upon my home’s gravestone “A Place I Can’t Wait to Get Out of”.
And get out of it I did.
The year before I left home and entered high school in the States, I spent many, many hours getting frustrated over my perceived incompatibility with the way schools taught and students learned at home. As someone who always dreaded grades as a measure of worth, I felt that these schools stifled genuine learning in search of some surface veneer of academic achievement such as memorizing all the facts so you can pick up your 100. We learned to receive a number rather than properly learning any of the material that interested us. Aside from the fact that I didn’t do too well in school, I suffered from a heavy case of teen angst. That translated into thinking that home equalled “not a place for me”.
So when my parents presented the option to study abroad to me, I jumped at the chance.
From age fourteen to age seventeen, I spent most of every year away from home studying at a school in rural Connecticut. Nestled within the valleys in a town of 3000, the school saw the company of gentle mountains and the calm Housatonic Rive. It contrasted the landscape of my home in every way. While this may appear at first as the answer to all my angsty prayers, I soon realized in the first few months I studied there that I’d idealized what “not home” would give me. While picturesque and understatedly breathtaking, my school’s natural beauty also meant isolation from civilization. As someone used to finding convenient stores, public transportation and ten different restaurants within a few minutes’ walk, the amount of nothingness outside the borders of my school absolutely killed me.
Summer breaks then turned into a long-awaited event as homesickness gripped me. Home, previously dull and monotonous, pulsed in vibrant colours and sounds. My American high school summer breaks guaranteed three months of free time and thus more opportunities to explore my hometown. I spent more hours strolling the streets for exciting little things than I ever did before. Who knew that my eyes enjoyed tracing the stark outlines of the skyscrapers and the clouds against the sky so much? And who knew so many quiet indie bookstores hid amongst the bustle of the city?
I ventured into districts I didn’t know much about and left hungry for more.
The more I rediscovered all the things I loved about home, the more America paled in comparison. In a very ironic turn of events, I dreaded returning to school at the end of every break for reasons beyond needing to work again. You’d think I might grow out of it at some point, but this sort of back-and-forth longing persists till now. While it does distress me most of the time, over the years I learned to see what good comes out of my odd relationship with place and home. When I went to study abroad, I could recognize the beauty of my home in a way I could not as a thirteen-year-old.
Home seemed new because I got to learn what lay outside and what it feels to live far away from it.
When you become so used to a place, you often only notice the things that annoy and affect you negatively; validly so, as those are likely problems in your environment that you can’t immediately change. But just as only looking at the inside of a pot misses what the whole pot can offer, staying too close to home can sometimes make you forget its other more beautiful facets. That’s not to say that all of us can and should just pack up to go somewhere else. I remain so grateful for the privilege that I have to step outside and look at things from a different perspective. I only hope that I can continue to carry this reminder to search for hidden delights wherever I end up.
As a child, autumn with its temperate breezes and mild, welcoming sunshine took the title of my favourite season. Now, as a college student, summer gradually nudged autumn out of its spot and stole my heart. Yes, Hong Kong summers can (sometimes) suffocate you from the inside out, but the sky also brightens to the most brilliant, irresistible blue in the heat. Even if you don’t skip town, try going down a street you don’t often visit. You might just find something new there.