I’m a people person, there’s no doubt about it. I enjoy having face-to-face human interactions a lot more than having an online presence, and I would much rather meet you in real life than continuously text back and forth. Yet, I dread (and there’s really no other way to describe this) having to answer one of the simplest and most inevitable conversation starters out there: “So, where are you from?”
Every time I meet someone new, I do what I can to steer the conversation away from this topic. I do this not because I don’t want anyone to know, but for a rather different reason — I don’t really know where to start. Are they asking me about my ethnicity, my birth place, where I grew up, where my permanent home is or where I currently live?
Because all of those questions have very different answers.
I hesitate because I’m torn between trying to answer what they’re actually asking me, while not having to unnecessarily recount my entire life story. My general response comes out something like, “I currently live near Los Angeles, but my hometown is Sydney, Australia.” Cue a couple of gasps, jaw drops and the occasional, “Oh yeah, I thought I heard an accent.” Then, the questions begin rolling in: “When did you move? Was it hard adjusting? Do you miss it?” My all-time favorite is, “How is the United States different from Australia?”
I moved to Southern California in late 2012 right before I began 11th Grade, and I never got the chance to visit Sydney again for four and a half years.
Well, at least until this past week.
Choosing to study abroad was a last-minute decision, and while I originally wanted to go to a place I’ve never been to before, I missed Sydney enough to return. Before I knew it, fall semester ended and I was packing my bags for the next six months in sunny Sydney. I eventually got on the plane on Jan. 24 and arrived in my hometown on Jan. 26. And what could be more fitting than landing in Australia on Australia Day?
That first day was a whirlwind of grocery shopping, unpacking and getting settled in. But I also got to experience some “true blue” Aussie experiences and it made coming back to Sydney all the more exciting.
In the evening I went to the Meriton Festival Village, part of the Sydney Festival 2017, held at Hyde Park. We got to enjoy a wonderful array of performances that were nothing short of amazing. My favorite performance was by a band called Eastern Empire. The best way to describe their style is when Bollywood meets rock and roll.
Towards the end of their 45 minute set, they managed to amass a large crowd in front of the stage and gave everyone some energizing Bollywood dance lessons. It was so heartwarming to see people jump up without hesitation and dance to the beauty of the music.
The fact that it was also Republic Day in India, all the way on the other side of the world, made the scene so much more touching and, in a way, it showed me the love that naturally oozes from the bonds of humanity.
With all that was going on though, it was only during a peaceful walk on the beach that it finally hit me that I was back in Sydney. After being away for such a long time, I wasn’t really sure if coming back would be possible.
Before leaving, a great part of me was beyond excited at the thought of going back and getting to see all of my friends again (there was only so much Facebook messaging could provide). But a smaller part of me was genuinely anxious that I would no longer belong in a place that I continuously told everyone was “my hometown.”
I was always too Australian to be American, and I now find myself wondering if I’m too American to be Australian. Everyone I’ve met in Australia so far has immediately picked up on my “full-on American accent” that people in the United States have consistently reminded me I don’t have.
I’m not exactly sure if it’s Sydney or me that has changed. I contemplate about how my life would’ve played out if I was still living in Australia, but at the same time, I love everything about where I’m from and who I am today. Every past decision and action, no matter how insignificant it may have seemed at the time, has eventually given way to the vastly different life I now lead. And if they all simultaneously, yet progressively, add up to make me who I am today, then I’m humbly and eternally grateful.
Home is where I decide it to be and if my study abroad experience has taught me that much on day one, then I simply can’t wait for what the next six months will bring.
Jenisha Sabaratnam writes the weekly travel column. Contact Jenisha Sabaratnam at [email protected].