If I learned to speak Mandarin perfectly, with no discernible foreign accent, if I lived the rest of my life in this city, if I my children were born here, if my grandchildren were born here, even if I dyed my hair black, got dark contacts and tried my very best to blend in as much as possible—one thing will still always remain—I’m a foreigner.
As a native of a country where we can’t readily identify foreigners, even by their color of skin or the language they speak—it’s easy for us to never really ponder what it means to be “foreign.” But here, my status as a foreigner is obvious and constant.
After nearly 4 weeks of traveling, I returned “home” a few days ago. Although I was leaving this beautiful country full of warmth and sunshine:
I was excited to be returning to this foreign land—which over the past few months begins to feel more familiar, like a place I belong. Perhaps that’s why my status once again as foreign was a little bit jarring. My first night back we went to dinner at a restaurant we frequent. Another diner moved across the restaurant to stare at us. He probably wanted to examine the foreigners’ chopstick skills. Or maybe he was just intrigued by the group of foreigners.
While at times this identity as a foreigner can be a bit overwhelming, I have to say I’ve grown in some ways to appreciate. In one of my early letters home I mentioned that living here, ‘I’m continually reminded that for each of us, this is not our home. China is no more my home than the land of (real) football and barbecue is.’
So even as I retain my foreign status, I’m thankful for the opportunities that it brings me to meet new people and build relationships. I’m thankful for the many foreign things that become familiar. And I’m thankful for the reminder that I am made for a greater home and have been given a “longing for a better country—a heavenly one.”