What does home mean?


Gloria Zhang

Gloria poses in a photo as a child. To her, home is where her family and friends embrace her.

by Gloria Zhang, Aquila Asst. Features Editor

“Kia Ora,” he said, as he flipped to the photo page of my black passport, the silver ferns lining the edges reflecting the ceiling light.

“Excuse me?” my mind was focused on the accumulating airport security line, struggling to process the simple words.

“You’re from New Zealand, right?” his eyes squinted a little, unable to understand my confusion.

Kia Ora, Kia Ora, Kia Ora, I thought, while tugging my red carry-on along the carpeted floor of the aircraft en route to Auckland last winter. Clearly, those six letters would plague me for the rest of the vacation. Pressing down the plastic button, I collapsed the handle and hoisted the luggage in the overhead bin. Over by my seat was a furry blanket that called out for me. Yet instead, I could only concentrate on the bolded words affixed to the in-flight magazine: Kia Ora. Then the straightforward translation appeared in my thoughts: hello.

Simply said, I am an “ABC”, or rather an “NBC”, a term made by Chinese people denoting a new generation of Chinese people born overseas, usually in the United States, thus American-born Chinese. Common cultural identity issues for some foreign-born Chinese are the inability to fluently read and write in Chinese and a difference in pop culture preferences. However, the identity issue involving the true destination of home is less typical.

I was born in Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand. My family moved back to China, then left to Canada and Australia, all before I was seven years old. At six years and 11 months old, we moved to Hong Kong, where I attended an English international school, Peak School. My finally-perfected Australian accent soon jumbled up again. Even though I had yet to understand the philosophical definition of home, I felt at home with my peers. Our international school was the perfect definition of a mosaic; my best friend is Malaysian and Australian, the best dancer is Canadian, my dance buddy is an half Thai and half British, and the class artist is born in Pakistan and raised in Hong Kong.

Years later in fall of 2014, I fidgeted with the gray straps of my black and white zebra print backpack, as I trod up the slope of Harker Middle School. I had this incessant fear of loneliness; I was new to the country and had nothing to relate with anyone. For the first time, I knew that this place was not my home. At least in Australia, my whole family were citizens; in New Zealand, I was greeted with “Welcome home, Kiwi!” every time at border control; in China, I had all my relatives, and in Canada, well, I was too young to remember much.

However, I did make two of my best friends at Harker, who were both born and raised in California. Basking in constant laughter and inside jokes, I recognized that I was no longer lonely and belonged in the Golden State. Nevertheless, on a daily basis, whether in class or at the airport, words and actions reminded me that I’m not American, and that bruised me. Since 11 years old, I began speaking with an American accent, studied my U.S history, and laugh at regional memes. I experienced as much of this culture as my friends, yet technically this was not my home.

As I fluffled the pillow on my airplane seat, I anticipated the moment I landed in my birth country. I wanted to learn the history, the inside jokes, the native language, and how to be a true New Zealander. Over the course of a few days, smiles and warmth pervaded my thoughts. I pronounced every word incorrectly, yet was welcomed like family – exactly like in California.

Soon, I realized my home was not limited by the border lines drawn on a map, but was where my family and friends embraced me. I knew my family would travel to any place for me and my friends would forever welcome me into their home. I found my home.