This year marks twenty years since I first came to Japan. I’ve lived in Japan for ten of those twenty years, and in the U.K. for two of them. That’s a long time spent away from my home country of New Zealand. But what exactly makes somewhere “home”?
Feeling “at home” in a country is not just about which country has the most pros. Living in New Zealand and Japan has come with positive and negative experiences. I’ve met both very polite and very rude people. I’ve witnessed acts of violence, but I’ve also seen acts of kindness. I’ve felt safe and threatened. I’ve had excellent customer service — and shockingly bad customer service. I’ve felt welcomed and I’ve been humiliated just because I’m different in someone else’s eyes. No single country can ever be perfect for a person.
But it’s both the good and bad that help people discover what values are important to them. I’ve incorporated into my life things I like from other cultures. I’ve felt a new appreciation for things in my own culture. I’ve found common values between cultures.
I’ve come to realise that “home” is more than “where the heart is.” It’s not about feeling nostalgic and positive about everything in a city or a country. “Home” can actually be pretty frustrating, because you want things to be better — not just for you, but for those around you. For me, “home” is where I want to stay because I want to help improve things. I want to support local businesses. I have ideas on how to create more business and help local citizens develop and grow. I want to contribute to the communities whose people have in turn supported me, my development and my growth.
While I’ve also lived in Malaysia and the U.K., the feeling of wanting to make things better is strongest in New Zealand and Japan. In Japan, my host families, my friends, my neighbours, the local shopkeepers and restaurant owners have given me so much — and I want to give back. My host families have become extended family. I visit one set of host parents almost every long weekend, just like my Japanese students living far from their parents.
When my actual parents were visiting me recently, I remembered something my mother said to me when I was very young. She pointed to the small mole on the sole of my foot and said: “They say that a mole there means you’ll live far from home one day.” I used to think that her words had come true. But then I realised that in a lot of ways, as I type this in Kobe, home is not far at all — in fact, I think I’m already there. (Samantha Loong)