I searched the crowd for my dad, trying to fight my heavy eyelids. It had a been a long flight, and I wanted nothing more than to fall asleep in the comfort of my childhood bed.
“Wen!” A familiar voice called. My dad pushed past other travelers, sporting his usual look: a faded Pittsburgh Panthers t-shirt he stole from my brother, and the khaki shorts he wears every Saturday morning when he’s out in the front yard fixing his car. It was surreal seeing my dad in real life, as I’d only seen him on a screen in the past few months.
As I went in for a hug, I couldn’t help but notice how his hair had greyed. The formerly scarce strands of white hair had increased by the dozens, and the wrinkles by his eyes had deepened. It’s strange, watching your parents grow old when you feel like you haven’t aged at all.
We got into the car, and as usual, I sat in the passenger seat. By the time we were on the highway, we were shaking our heads to all of the repetitive Taiwanese pop songs I’d grown up on, performing our ritual dance routine. In the midst of all of this, my dad offered his standard dad jokes about every billboard we spotted, every traffic light at which we stopped, and at everything the radio host muttered.
During the car ride, I began to feel guilty. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone so far away for college. Location was a genuine concern during my college-decision process. Should I have chosen New York to be closer to my brother? Should I have stayed behind and completed my first year at a local school to be closer to my parents? Or was I right to have chosen the best school for my academic and professional future—the one that was 9,448 kilometers away from home?
As excited as I was to go to college, I knew my choice was bittersweet. When I decided to go to Amsterdam, I knew that would determine much of the next decade of my life.
After spending three years earning my bachelor’s degree, I’ll likely stay in Europe for my master’s; then, it’ll make sense for me to start my career there through the connections I’ll have built through my academic career. By choosing Amsterdam, I knew hopping on a thirteen-hour flight back home frequently wasn’t going to be a viable option.
My grandparents couldn’t afford to go to school at all, and my parents both ended their academic careers after high school to support their families. All of their hard work went toward being able to send my brother and me to college, and we both ended up thousands of kilometers away from home.
Growing up in a big family with nine cousins and an older brother, I’ve always felt dispensable. I never really thought that my absence would be felt in the family. So when I arrived at my grandparents’ house on my first visit home from college, I nodded along as my little cousin began telling me about his friends, Fortnite, and basketball. I stuttered while attempting to answer my uncle’s complicated questions about European history. I smiled as my grandfather (“Ah-gong” in Taiwanese) pushed plates of food toward me, commenting that European cuisine is nothing compared to my grandmother’s (“Ah-ma” in Taiwanese) home-cooked meals.
After catching up with everybody, I walked into my bedroom, toying with the knick-knacks on my desk, my fingers tracing the books I’d left behind. I still loved everything in the house, and being away from home never lessened how I felt about it—but that’s because I knew that when I came back, everything would be just the way I’d left it.
I am grateful for everything that my parents have done for me, all of the sacrifices they have made. I’m especially appreciative of my mother, who has never hesitated to make sure I put myself first. She’s provided me with more love and wisdom than anyone else in the world.
I don’t want to one day regret not spending enough time with my parents. Every year, every birthday that passes by, I remind myself of that. It was my mom’s biggest regret, and I don’t want history to repeat itself.
At the end of the day, I belong home. Not in my physical childhood bedroom, but with my family. As hard as distance and homesickness are, the one constant that has never changed is the love we have for each other.
That night, after everyone left, it was just my grandparents and me. My ah-gong had gone to bed early, and my ah-ma and I were chit-chatting in the living room as I waited for my hair to dry.
“Did you miss us?” She asked.
“Of course! I tried making your fried rice in my dorm, but it just wasn’t as good.”
“I’ll teach you before you go, and you can teach your friends as well.”
“Please do! I really want to learn.”
Ah-ma sipped her tea, setting the cup down by her side before turning to look at me. “I wish you could’ve picked somewhere closer.”
“I’ll be home.”