So, where’s your hometown? It’s one of the most typical and easy conversation-starting questions. Yet, it can be a hard stump for someone with a multicultural, multi-regional background.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary’s first definition of home is “one’s place of residence.” However, as a college student, I technically have two residences: one where my parents and siblings live and the other here in Baltimore. Plus, my physical home has changed quite a lot growing up.
During elementary school, I lived in Ohio. As soon as I went into middle school, we moved to California. My family moved again to New Jersey when I started high school. And of course, Hopkins is in Maryland, so my college was also in a totally new state.
On top of that, I was born in Korea, raised in the U.S. and just recently got my U.S. citizenship in 2018, so do I say my hometown is the Korean city I was born in? Can home truly be defined as the place where one simply lives?
Over the past couple of years, I occasionally find myself ruminating on the concept of home because I don’t feel quite at home anywhere anymore. During Thanksgiving break, I went back to the place I would most consider “home” right now.
My bed there was cozier, the people around me made me feel welcome and there were no words I could use to adequately describe the joy I felt eating my family’s cooking. The physical place that contained my high school memories, my parents and my siblings was definitely a “home.”
And yet, the place still didn’t quite feel like home. In fact, the feeling of home seemed to no longer exist — I felt like a guest in my own household.
By no means did this feel wrong or bad, just different. I wasn’t treated like an outcast or a stranger, but there was a very refined sense of discomfort inside me. An even more alarming feeling came when I returned to Baltimore, to my own apartment, and still did not feel like I was home.
It’s not that my parents find me uncomfortable or that they don’t want me to be at home because I know they, more than anyone, were excited to see me again. And it’s not that I don’t find my own place in Baltimore unfitting or foreign.
Rather, I’m in that awkward stage of life where I’m an adult that doesn’t know how to be an “adult,” but I’m still being treated like one. I feel uncomfortable because I don’t know how to cope with myself. The problem isn’t the home; it’s me (“Hi! I’m the problem, it’s me” – Taylor Swift). I keep telling myself that neither place is truly home because I’m an independent person living alone, but I still call my mom for every little inconvenience that happens.
This feeling reminds me of the dissonance I feel with my cultural identity. I’m not quite American, nor am I quite Korean, and I have yet to find my own voice as a Korean-American. Precisely said, it’s the feeling of un-belonging. It feels unnatural, but at the same time, it’s a natural part of growing older and transitioning from a “teenage dirtbag” to a functioning mature human in society.
I thought I absolutely had to fit the stereotypes of my different cultural identities to be considered and accepted as part of those cultures, instead of accepting the fact that everyone has their own idiosyncrasies. I also thought that I was alone in this struggle when, in reality, many other people share this feeling of un-belonging.
Despite my growth, I still sometimes question my cultural identity. I know that when I go home for Christmas, I’ll still have the initial feeling of discomfort being a guest in my own home.
But I recognize that these feelings of un-belonging and discomfort will be fleeting sentiments in the long run as I become older, grow into myself and build my own identity.
After much reflection, home doesn’t necessarily need to be a physical place or even any particular feeling of coziness or comfort. To me, home is probably just my family; the most loving yet stubborn people in my life that make me smile and cry all at once.
They might make me feel like a guest sometimes, but they’re still home. I can’t wait for exam season to be over and be on the train ride back home. And who am I kidding, I love being treated like a royal guest, especially when my mom makes all the food I love.
Good luck to everyone on finals, stay warm and safe travels when going home.
Jamie Kim is a junior from New Jersey studying Psychology. Her column explores her journey navigating through life and Hopkins as an introvert.