I grew up in international schools in three different countries. My friends were constantly coming and going, I was constantly coming and going. It was fun and it was exciting. But I never had one particular place I felt I could call home.
To me, home meant wherever I was currently living. It didn’t mean feeling at total ease in the country I was living in. It didn’t mean feeling connected to everyone around me. I didn’t always know the language, I didn’t know the streets like the back of my hands, I didn’t grow up with the same neighbours.
I loved every city I lived in and I loved making new friends all over the world. But I didn’t identify with one particular place. I spent core years of my life in London but I didn’t feel like I was a Londoner. In Antwerp I missed living in London. In Bombay, I felt like a foreigner in my own country.
I went to college in the United States in Savannah, GA, which is where I got the first taste of feeling completely at home in a country. I had never had this feeling before. Maybe it was because college years are some of the most fundamental years in becoming who you are as an adult, and maybe it was because college tends to be the funnest time of life. But upon graduation, I knew I wanted to stay in the United States.
I got a job in New York City and moved there. It wasn’t my first choice city (I had my heart set on San Francisco) and it wasn’t my first choice job. But I wasn’t about to complain. I had already applied to over 150 jobs with more than half of them coming back to me to say they don’t hire international students. Landing a great job in a great city and being able to stay in the US was terrific news.
I had visited New York several times on vacation, but living there was completely different. As soon as I set foot there as a new resident, I was in love. It was home to me, in the truest sense of the word, after day one.
Despite being a cultural minority, I never felt like one. I felt connected to everyone around me, I felt like I knew the city inside out. I became the person I am. I was confident and I was happy. I was more consistently happy than ever before.
Most of my college friends had moved to the City, as had many of my high school friends. I made a new, great group of friends that was constantly growing, and made good friends at work. My soon-to-be boyfriend was a few hours drive away.
For once, I felt stable. In the past I had always craved change. I got bored being in one place for too long. But now, I had no desire to move again. I wanted to stay in New York for a while and maybe try out the West Coast later in life. But I knew that America would stay my home.
Towards the end of my year in New York, my company had to apply to the government to sponsor my visa so that I could stay and work for them. I knew there was a chance I wouldn’t get it. The government accepts only 65,000 applicants, and the year before more than double that applied. This year, they were expecting even more submissions. But I had full faith that I would get my visa. I couldn’t be ripped away from my home. And my company assured me that they had never been turned away. So I continued to live in blissful ignorance of what was to come.
I came back from a weekend in Ithaca with my soon-to-be boyfriend. He was graduating in a week and planning on moving to the City after. We couldn’t have been more excited to be together and be able to make our relationship official. I was called into the HR office where I was told that my visa did not get chosen in the lottery. There were three times the allotted applicants and mine got sent back. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My entire life came crashing down.
I cried all week. And for months after I would continue to cry at the drop of a hat at any situation. I knew it was a problem when I burst into tears because the guys at the burger joint forgot to put cheese in my burger.
I was also furious. I had spent five years in the United States. It was my home. I had invested money into the economy through my expensive college education. I had worked my ass off to get a job. I spent a year at a job where I was overworked and underpaid, making money for American brands and American companies, working to boost the American economy. And now I was getting kicked out because I wasn’t American.
In one month I packed up my entire life and moved out. I left my job. I slowly said goodbye to all my friends. I sold everything in my apartment for next to nothing because I just needed to get rid of it. I had to get rid beautiful pieces my parents had bought me for my first apartment in my new adult life. I watched my tiny, beautiful studio slowly become emptier and lonelier.
Six months later, I’m now at a new job in a new city, and I still feel heartbroken. I miss my friends, my boyfriend and my life. Yes, moving to a new place is always a new adventure. But I didn’t want a new adventure. There’s a difference between moving to a new place because you want to and because you have to. Because you were ripped away from your home and thrown into a new environment with no choice. No choice, and therefore, no control.
I try to embrace my new situation. But it’s hard when my heart is still in New York. I’m not entirely here and, like a bad break up, I can’t move on just yet. There’s still a pit in my stomach, and my chest still clenches when upon mention of New York.
But I hope that one day I will wake up up and it will hurt a little less, and then maybe not at all. I’ll stop spending all my free time looking at flights back to New York. I’ll be happy again. And I’ll be able to call another country home.