A World of (Familiar) Wonder: How Living Abroad Changed My View of Home

The velvety expanses of grass, and the rolling hills blanketed in oaks and maples still commanded my attention hours after leaving the airport, like a child who had never seen them before. As we traveled along the highway, my eyes remained fixed on these grand natural landscapes all around us. And I wanted to soak in every single detail, from the different shades of green to the way the leaves seemed to shimmer in the July sunshine, set against a sky so blue it looked computer generated.

The whole scene felt like a dream, and even I wondered if I would suddenly awaken and find myself back in bed, somewhere else far removed from all this, even though it shouldn’t have thrown me into such a reverie. After all, this was the land of my childhood — the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, USA, the place I had grown up and called home for a good portion of my life.

So what had changed? Simple — I lived in China now, and it was my first trip back to the US in years.

It’s amazing how putting down roots in another country can transform your perspective on places you knew so intimately, to the point where they can enchant you all over again, like a first-time visitor. Where you forget all of the imperfections, the warts, the problems of the past and simply appreciate the scenery in that moment. It happens to me every time I come back to the US from China for a visit, and no matter the season, these landscapes of my childhood turn into something shiny and new.

I used to have a similar experience when my husband and I lived in the US, and we would journey back to China, where things that had once faded into the background of daily life would fascinate me all over again.

But it’s another thing entirely to see the place you spent your formative years suddenly polished to the point that, even though you recognize the area, you still cannot help but stare at everything in awe, like a newcomer.

I always say that the US is my home country. But that designation — home country — seems to blur with each passing year, as I spend less time in the land that helped shape who I am. I now live in Beijing with my husband, who is from China, and I hold a full-time job in the city. When I usually say, “I’m going home,” I generally mean to my apartment here in Beijing, not to the US.

And yet, the US is still a “home” to me, since it also happens to hold one of the most precious things to me — family. Isn’t home defined by where our loved ones (or hearts) reside?

Perhaps this might explain the magical sheen that has now colored the world of my childhood. It looks more beautiful to me because, deep down, I miss it a bit more, living far from people I love.

I’ve learned that, when you live abroad, when you marry someone from another country and make a life there with them, your definition of home stretches, expands and evolves in ways you might never have expected. And it changes how you see and feel about those once familiar places.

All I know is this — I am looking forward to my next trip to the US, and cannot wait for that moment when I sit inside someone’s car and peer out into the world with that the same childlike wonder.

If you’ve ever lived abroad, have you experienced that sense of “wonder” when you return home?

Photo credit: By Niagara66 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51712992

Jocelyn Eikenburg
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