It has been 40 days, 21 hours, and 37 seconds since I left home for university. My parents both strongly insisted on dropping me off in Amsterdam, so we spent a week together crammed into a tiny hotel room and exploring what the city had to offer. We spent our days floating through the canals, navigating alleyways, cruising around town by tram, and wasting our days away in one museum after another.
We said our goodbyes the night before their red-eye flight. It was an unusually cold August day for us, but for the locals, it was the norm. I was gripping on to the sleeves of my hoodie as my mother and father said their farewells, fighting back tears. My mother started listing her worries. I rubbed her back, telling her she had nothing to worry about. It wasn’t my first time living away from them, but when I told her that, she bursted into tears.
Standing in the lobby of my dorm, I watched my parents’ car drive away as it became smaller and smaller.
I went upstairs into my tiny studio apartment, where minutes became hours and hours became days. All of my excitement about finally being on my own was replaced with anxiety, with uncomfort. I was suddenly uneasy about being far from home. It wasn’t that I wanted to fly 14 hours back home—but I wanted to be surrounded by the elements that constitute home: family, friends, and food.
The distance from Amsterdam to Taipei is 9,448 kilometers (5,871 miles), and there’s a six-hour time difference between the two. At first, my father tried to call me during my morning classes in the few minutes of time he had between his afternoon meetings. When I’d finally get out of all of my classes, it was already long past his bedtime. But my mother found a way around this: now, I spend the minutes after I wake up every morning going through all of her texts and listening to the voice messages she has left for me in my sleep. It feels therapeutic. In some weird way, it’s like I’m still living in my bedroom back home. Despite the physical distance, there are no restraints on my emotional bond with my family.
The same goes for friends, but it’s a bit more difficult; everyone is scattered across the world, starting a new chapter of their life. But even when things get overwhelming, there are lots of things you can do for them. Even if it’s just through daily Snapchats, it’s comforting to see your friends moving on with their lives and having fun. You don’t have to text them daily, but a little bit goes a long way. Just liking and occasionally commenting on their photos will let them know they’re on your mind.
Despite the 8,868 kilometers (5,510 miles) and six-hour time differences between us, my best friend Carla and I have been able to keep our friendship going strong. We send each other swarms of texts when the other person is asleep and respond when we’re awake. We post throwback photos of each other, give each other song suggestions, and rant about our worries. Whenever she goes to our favorite restaurant without me, she sends me a photo and expresses how much she misses me. Though these conversations don’t occur daily, I cherish them dearly.
Back home, we all used to eat dinner together during the week. Every night at 7 o’clock sharp, as my father backed into the garage, my mother and I would finish setting the table. During dinner, we’d all sit facing each other and talk about our day. My mother would share details from her phone calls with my brother who lives abroad, my father would discuss his day at work, and I would tell them about school and my friends.
Now that I live alone, I’ve lost that.
Every night I come home from school, drop my bags, and try to whip up a hot meal. Sometimes it’s boxed mac and cheese, sometimes it’s leftover pizza from the night before. On the days when I feel more inspired, I cook alongside a YouTube tutorial and try my hand at chicken tandoori. Afterwards I sit on my desk, facing the window, and stare at my computer screen in silence.
None of it tastes or feels like home.
Yet a dish that always reminds me of home is fried rice. I grew up with both my mother and my grandmother making it. The dish itself is so simple: stir-fried rice with dashes of condiments. Just recreating the dish brings me right back to my childhood, the excitement I felt every time I saw it in my lunch box.
Thus, an idea has sparked in my head.
A week ago, I urged a group of my new college friends to come over so I could cook for them. Not to my surprise, everyone agreed to my invitation for free food. As they helped me prepare the dish—passing around condiments, chopping the chicken, washing the rice—I felt like I was a part of a new family. When we were finally done, we all sat on the floor due to my apartment’s lack of seating. The laughter and chatter made my room feel less lonely.
When I looked at them, I felt like I was home; I’d found genuine, caring, and kind-hearted people in a foreign place, similar to the ones that I was so lucky to have found back home.
I’d been so fixated on the idea of home being a physical concept: the people, the house in which I grew up, even the food on which I was raised. But at the end of the day, home is just a place in which you feel safe and comfortable.
To me, right now, that’s Amsterdam. I feel like I’ve found my home.