When Home Isn’t Home Anymore
By Bernie Low
On February 9, 2015
Living in a foreign country displaces you, it forces you to find and create for yourself a brand new home, somewhere else. For some, it is a thrilling new adventure while for others it can be their greatest fear. No matter how much you have become accustomed to your new country, there’s always a slice of home you will miss because it is not easy to say goodbye.
Each time I went back to Singapore I would be excited to return to where I had grown up, nostalgia tugging at my heart strings each time I heard the roar of an airplane engine – I was going home!
But what happens when home is no longer home? When instead of warmth and nostalgia all you feel is displacement and loss?
I’ve only been in Japan for three years and I return to Singapore rather often and yet each time I feel this dilemma. Happiness yet melancholy and longing, an emptiness that somehow cannot be fulfilled by any one place.
Having lived abroad and thrown myself head first into having to adapt, learn and appreciate a whole new culture changed me and my perspective on the world. There is just so much out there to see and experience.
But traveling and living, settling down somewhere are two different things. When traveling you know you’re returning home at some point, where you’re presently at is temporary, a journey toward a goal. I feel torn now, to think I have two home bases and facing the possible decision to have to choose between the two.
I am Singaporean by nationality and I fiercely love my country and sing her praises, but when I return I don’t feel like I belong any longer, the once familiar words do not roll off my tongue as fluently as they used to. I find myself unable to comprehend the local trends and I get lost at the landmarks that have changed.
I feel like a foreigner in my own country.
I feel like a foreigner in my own country. There is an echoing bitter aftertaste that I cannot quite identify at the end of each day. I am living there, but each time it grows ever more distant like the best friend you used to have that you’re drifting apart from and it frightens me.
On the other hand, there is Japan which I have called home, created a new place of existence for myself and where I have developed as a person. I made new friends, joined new communities and found a new family.
These years where I had to fend for myself, learning through experience and having to prove my worth all over again to new people and survive, I hold dear. Yet there are still customs, actions, words I do not fully grasp. Inside jokes I am not and will not be privy to. Part of me cannot truly call Japan home and longs for the comfort of familiarity.
Some days I feel like there are two separate versions of me, two personas I have created for each home base. Japan Bernie and Singapore Bernie, two very different yet similar people who carry themselves differently because they feel the environment calls for it. I have two different accents when I speak – an “International” one (which ends up somewhat American) and my natural Singlish accent. Like switches I turn them on and off as I see fit but more often than not they start to overlap.
How do people make the decision between two places, two personas, two homes? As I move closer to graduation from university the question of where I will choose to live constantly surfaces and honestly I do not know the answer. I love both countries and it will pain me to have to say goodbye to either one of them.
But “goodbye is not a sad word, it’s a yell that connects our respective dreams” and each time I sing the words I mull over the consequences of either action. No matter the choice I know that there is a piece of my heart I will leave behind in the place that will become my home away from home.