Philadelphia Metropolis


Where Do I Belong?

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By Shannon Lee


Born in Canada, raised in Singapore, and now living in the USA. Three different countries in two decades. In today's globalized world, where traveling thousands of miles can be done in a few hours, stories like this are common. I have a friend who has lived in five different countries in 20 years, shifting each time his dad was posted somewhere. 

"Where do you call home?" I asked him.

"Well, I kind of see myself as a global citizen now..." and then as a careless afterthought, "So, where do you call home?"

That careless afterthought made me wonder.

Is home Canada, where I was born? I was there for the first few years of my life, and while I return every year, the place feels foreign to me. Yet I know it will always have a special place in my heart, simply because I was born there. I often wonder what life would be like if I remained. I miss my old friends, although they probably do not miss me as much. It hurt for me to leave everything, but for them, life just went on.

Is home Singapore, where I spent 14 years of my life? It's a beautiful city-state in Asia, just along the equator. I have the most friends there. I miss the food terribly (I Google pictures of the local fare sometimes). But can I call it home over Canada?

Or is it Philly, where I now live? I often say that Canada is really, really slow; Singapore is super fast; Philly is somewhere in-between, and a comfortable pace of life. All are really different places, and they have all contributed to different parts of me.

I never was much of a runner before I came here, but I fell in love with the Schuylkill schuylkill-river-trail-philadelphia-587.jpgRiver, often taking my camera out for "river runs" when the weather is nice.

I love making monthly trips to the Italian Market for the best hot chocolate in the world. I never was so crazy about hot chocolate before.

I love the freedom here - that I can sing aloud to myself as I walk, and no one would find it too strange (they do in some countries!). Sometimes people sing back to me. I have started going for yoga classes (I used to find them silly).

I love the strong sports culture here. I never watched a single game of baseball before I came to Philadelpiha.  Then I watched my first Phillies game (against the Mets); I saw my first home run; I went crazy - never mind that I only dimly understood the game and had to have a friend explain what was going on half the time.

At age 22, I like to think I fit in here. But I am not sure if I belong. I am not sure if I really belong completely in any of the places I have lived (although I love all of them). I often wonder if it even matters and why I have such a great need to feel like I physically belong somewhere.

Yet maybe that lack of belonging is what enables me to truly integrate myself in each new place. I know of a few people who miss home so much they end up living nearly the exact same life in different countries. They try all means to make it the same - buying brands they were used to back home or buying imported food for their meals every day. They fail to explore the place beyond the usual school or work place, home, the grocery store, maybe some shopping in the central district. While all those are personal preferences, welcoming new experiences can be great fun as well.

The first two months in Philly, I thought it was boring. I could not understand why so many shops closed before 7 p.m. or the lack of supper places. Now, I realize that I was looking in all the wrong places. Like my friends, I was looking for the same things to do as I would back home. If I was willing to try something different, and take the initiative to explore, many hidden paths would appear. Yelp is now my best friend. I try to find something new to appreciate each weekend. I take as many pictures as I can.

And if I have to move again, I will not dread it. I have those memories, and I will look forward to more. So, maybe I should just stop wondering where to belong, but, as often said, "live life to the fullest" wherever I am, and build many beautiful memories.

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