Almost feels like home

Alex McNab

School Year Abroad China, the high school foreign exchange program I am participating in, took me 16,000 miles away from my home and didn’t give me a place that I could call mine. They gave me a host family, and my host family gave me a room.
“This is your room,” my host parents told me, but we all know it really isn’t.
“This is your house,” they said, but we all know that it belongs to them.
“We are your parents,” they explained, but they aren’t.
After living in a foreign place for as long as I have, it’s hard not to think of it as home. I have a life here and friends and places that I go to only because I live in this city. Most of the time, these habits and routines that I have developed during my eight months away from Los Angeles, my real hometown, succeed in giving me the illusion that this place is mine, that these people are mine, and that I am, in fact, a Beijinger, but I am not and am often reminded that I am not.
The fact, for example, that I have to either spend money or sit outside in the cold if I want to spend time with my friends is a harsh call back to the reality that, really, I have no place to go in China.
It is not Chinese custom for high school kids to invite their friends over, and, in Beijing, there are only two public libraries: the National Library and the library at Peking University, both of which are quite far away.
Also, our school locks its doors at 5:30p.m. every day, forcing us to leave the school building and hui jia, go home, but, really, we can’t go home, not until May 29 when we go back to America. Beijing is not our home. I have not been living in a Chinese home away from home. The way I see it throughout my time in China, I have been homeless. Many of S.Y.A. China’s teachers are aware of the unique situation that S.Y.A.’s students are in, and in an effort to help, have opened up their houses as places where S.Y.A. kids can hang out without having to wear a thick coat or spend thick wads of cash.
Chatting, baking and watching movies in these teachers’ houses, we may appear to an outsider to be like any other group of high school kids having a chill time on a Friday, but we are more than just that because, sitting on couches, chairs, beds and the floor as we all try to crowd into a stuffy apartment, we are connected by the common struggle, which is to live in this city which is not our own.
In our hearts, we know that Beijing will never be like the States, but, while we have no choice but to be here, we are doing are best to make this place our home, and, when we finally do go home, I believe we’ll miss it just as much as we now miss America.