Home sweet….hmm?

“Outside my window, Holland slides away beneath us. Now at the start of my fourth year in Holland, my Dutch boyfriend and I are flying off to Shanghai for a holiday.

This is the first time he’ll see my city or even my country, which makes my big boy terribly excited. And I too can’t wait as we roll off down the tarmac for two fantastic weeks to come. At the end of this 11-hour flight await my beloved friends and family, memories and daily trivia that will all feel so familiar. I won’t be an outsider any longer. I can finally drop my guard and get relaxed.

But almost from the first day home I’m taught a lesson about how things that you were once so used to can suddenly turn against you. After being dwarfed here for years by the tallest nation, I anticipate that Chinese people will now probably seem a bit short. But walking among the crowd I surprisingly find myself thinking of my fellow country folk as ‘proportionally-challenged’. Also, I can’t help wondering why women in Shanghai dress so flashy and so cute, like teenage girls? And why are people talking so loudly in subways or coffee shops, usually leaving me, the over-hearer, overloaded with just too-much-information. Am I being too judgmental about my home town? Noticing my confusion, Dutch boyfriend offers some comfort, saying that it’s normal, that it’s just a matter of being unaccustomed. But honestly – unaccustomed to a place I lived for 22 years? Sounds ridiculous to me.

But anyway, I think comfortingly, if the reunion with my home town hasn’t gone as smoothly as I expected, I still believe that reconnecting friends and family will be effortless. But I quickly realise how wrong I am.  Catching up with friends for dinners and drinks, I find I barely know what they’ve been doing. I’ve missed so many birthdays and weddings. I’m no longer familiar with the intricacies of their daily lives, nor are they with mine. Sure we still have our sweet memories to cling to, but conversations about the past can only go so far until they get too nostalgic and too sentimental. While such time gaps are less noticeable with family, thanks to regular contact via skype and mails, my parent’s seamless care and hospitality becomes a bit too overwhelming. Fresh bread and milk always ready for me in the morning. Anything I miss, just name it and they’ll get it. And of course I’m spared having to do any housework. Ultimately, I feel like a guest.

So I head back home and realise everything isn’t the same as before. Or maybe I’m the one who has changed? But the truth is I start feeling that my home city, my closest friends and even my family are drifting further and further away. Am I losing my home? If I am, where can I return to when I’m exhausted? Where else can I attach my homesickness to? Suddenly a pang of sadness stabs my stomach.”

Lei Li, from Shanghai, China, is recent MSc graduate in science communication. She can be contacted at: LeiLivanShanghai@gmail.com

 Over het hoger onderwijs zegt TON weinig. Maar universiteiten moeten, ondanks de bezuiniging, beter presteren en de middenmoot ontstijgen: ‘Meer voor minder geld, dat kan! Onze universiteiten moeten tot de top van de wereld behoren.’

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