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Home is Where the Heart is
I am clear on the way there, but I my heart I am still in the vision. My dream of color, life, and culture is still but that; a dream, despite the fact that I am on the very brink of living it out. I see land creeping up in the distance, the land I am soon to become one with: the United States on America. And when I say one, I am speaking the truth, for I have no one holding me back or any family to fall upon for support. I am fully primed to hit the play button of the new sequel to my life in China.
As my boat creaks into the loading dock, it smacks me with a painful wallop right in my face: I am in Philadelphia. I have left China. I am alone. I have no job, no house. No friends. One tiny rock has crumbled from a mountain in my mind, and in the process began an avalanche of threatening boulders. I feel as if I have just been crushed, trapped, suffocated by one of the boulders that have come cascading down the mountain and found its way directly into my path.
I step off the dock hesitantly, my one solitary bag gripped so tightly that cramps are beginning to swell throughout my hand. The first things I notice are the people; unlike my small hometown in China, my new surrounding is bubbling with people of all kinds. Caucasians, African Americans, Indians, Spaniards, even other Asians, and not only that, but with each new person the walks by me, there is a different sense of style, attitude, and color about them. Even though the temperature is slinking up to a whopping 95 degrees, I feel a shiver through my spine. Upon my impulse of coming here, I hadn’t really thought about where I would actually go once I arrived. During my past week of traveling, I was a booming, excited firework exploding off in every direction with nonstop energy. Now I am finally here, and I can’t even manage to lift my two, slippered feet off the sidewalk of Philadelphia.
“Um, hi, um, are you, like, lost or something? At least by the look on your face, it appears that you are. Um, no offense or anything…” At first the passive voice doesn’t register due to all of the other noises engulfing me, but then the tap on my shoulder causes me to jump as high as a track star.
“Oh, I’m sorry! Really, I didn’t mean to startle you. I was just wondering if you, uh, wanted some help? You know, with directions, or something. I know my way around pretty well. At least, I should! I have been living here for the past three years ever since I enrolled in Drexel,” the woman continues, this time a bit more confidently. I am just about to say something in return, thanking her or anything at all, even, but before words can escape my mouth, I become conscious of the fact that, even though I can speak English, I have yet to rid myself of my strong accent. While I stand and stare blankly, trying my best to muster up even a couple of words to reply, the woman rushes ahead.
“Wait, do you not speak English? Ugh, I feel like such a fool! Here I am chattering away to someone who has absolutely no idea what I am saying! Oh no, I’m still doing it. You know what, I should just-”
“No. I speak English. Sorry for my poor speech. I am new here.” I try my best to choose my words carefully, selecting which ones I can pronounce the best. Even so, my speech still sounds like a big, confusing mess of S and L’s slurring together among each word. After dealing out yet another round of apologies for her misunderstandings, the woman introduces herself as Lindsey, Lindsey Frank of Drexel University. I shake her hand and utter “Lee.”
“So, Lee. Which hotel are you staying at? The Four Seasons? The Sheraton? The Rittenhouse? Or have you already bought a house?”
“Um, well, you see, I came here kind of suddenly. I have no plans at all.” I mumble this, slightly ashamed that my words were completely true. An uncomfortable silence elapses between the two of us, one that I fill by merely bowing my head and intently studying a loose thread on my traditional Chinese blouse. Again, Lindsey is the first to speak, her words like a warm fuzzy blanket to dissolve the ice.
“This probably sounds, like, super weird and all, but hey: how â€˜bout you spend the next couple of nights crashing in my dorm room. I mean, my roommate is gone for the summer and since I still have classes to take, I have the place to myself. It’s definitely no Four Seasons, but it’s way better than the streets.”
And so that’s how it happened, the whole me staying with a stranger thing. Back home I would have never done something like this, not to mention I would have never been allowed to do something like this. But what choice did I have? I am just glad Lindsey swooped down and saved me when she did, else I could be living in the streets right now.
Two weeks have passed since my arrival in the City of Brotherly Love, and though I go out and sightsee/look for a place to live/look for work day in and day out, I am still spending my nights in Lindsey’s dorm room. I have had so much fun riding the duck tours, strolling through Rittenhouse Square, and going to museum after museum; yet deep down I feel an awful pang of longing. I long for my family, my friends, my house. I long for China.
But right now, I try my best to push all of those thoughts out of my head, and wait for Lindsey get back from her morning class; she said she has somewhere to take me, in hopes of cheering me up. I guess she could tell by my gradually drooping face and attitude that I am beginning to lose hope of finding a home to live in and a job to work.
The sounds of the door creaking opening then slamming shut, followed by a bag thumping against the hardwood floor, fill the room and interrupt the slideshow memories of China flowing through my head. Lindsey comes bouncing into the bedroom, a large grin plastered across her pale, freckly face.
“Hey! Are you ready to go? Trust me, you are going to love this!”
“Yes, I am ready. Let’s go!” My accent was beginning to fade away, making it a bit easier for people to understand me, yet I still had to work extra hard to enunciate each syllable.
“Um, is that what you’re wearing, Lee?” Lindsey asks while biting her bottom lip.
“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing? You picked this out for me!” I glance down at my new, uncomfortable jeans that Lindsey swore were all the rage and the yellow top from the H