A chéngyǔ is a Chinese idiom that is typically written in only 4 characters. One that I’ve been reflecting on this past week is 四海为家 (sì hǎi wéi jiā), which literally translates to “four seas regard home”.
A decade ago, I would have understood this to mean exactly what it implies: the ability to make a home for yourself anywhere in the world. It’s the global citizen’s manifesto and a classic anthem for third-culture kids. To quote Maya Angelou, it means to “belong no place,” “every place,” and “to myself.”
But I doubt my younger self would have truly understood how
四海为家 plays out in real life. Having grown up at the intersection of multiple cultures, I always struggled with this concept of “home.” I’ve often wondered if my desire to travel, meet new people, and learn about faraway places grew out of this yearning for a space where I could truly belong.
As I grow older and live abroad for longer periods of time, I’m beginning to understand that the perfect “home” does not exist. My true self isn’t going to fit into every space, and that’s completely okay. Instead, I‘ve begun to question how a space can fit around me and what I need and value. My search for “home” has become a process of creation— a continuous dialogue between myself and my surroundings.
It’s been exactly one month since I’ve arrived in Taiwan, and learning Mandarin has strangely felt a lot like home. I find comfort in the playfulness of its tones and in the architecture of its strokes. When I speak Mandarin in public, I don’t feel the linguistic anxiety or emotional weight that surfaces when I speak in French, Spanish, or Tagalog.
Instead, I feel like my five year-old self is singing some little song he doesn’t know the words to. It’s a silly image, but it’s accurate for my language level, and it brings out a side of me that is curious, sincere, imaginative. As foreign as Taiwan is to me, I feel so close to a home I had forgotten all about.