Li Shen: The Comforts of Home

Don’t forget where you come from.

by Sabrina Li Shen | 10/9/18 2:05am

This weekend, I returned home for 36 hours. I slept in a bed that was not a twin XL, I drove around my home town, I ate authentic Chinese food — in short, I enjoyed the comforts of home. At the same time, it didn’t really feel like “home” anymore. My childhood bedroom was given to me for a night, but it had been occupied by my sister for about two weeks, due to the presence of relatives staying over. My sister’s belongings decorated the crevices of the room I had always thought of mine. This time, I felt like a guest. My customary mug languished in a cabinet; I fumbled a bit with the new coffeemaker. I could still navigate my home town with ease, but I felt out of place at my regular nail salon. The suburban moms who usually frequent the salon gossiped about places and people whom I no longer recognized or knew much about. Thankfully, the Chinese food still tasted delicious.

My trip back home reminded me that the idea of “home” is a moving target. I think of my childhood home with fondness and nostalgia, but I feel too big for it now. My home at Dartmouth is comforting and fleeting all at once; I have a steady routine, and I have friends who make me happy and grateful every day, but I know my time here is limited. The home I dream of is aesthetically pleasing and probably more expensive than I will be able to afford; more importantly, it is filled with people I love. I don’t have many specifics in mind for the layout or furnishing of my future home, but I want to make my parents proud when they see it. More importantly, my future home needs to have enough space to house my parents if they decide to live with me in their old age.

In many Asian cultures, it is customary for parents to live with their children after retirement or when grandchildren are born. Regardless of whether or not my parents decide to do the same, I want them to have that option. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it can buy living space. In that same vein, money will make it possible to support my parents comfortably and give them everything they deserve. I want a lot out of my Dartmouth education — friends, maturity, intellectual fulfillment, unforgettable experiences ... and a path to success. 

I have previously written about wanting to be successful. For the most part, I am following the traditional path — I joined clubs and organizations that will look good on my resume, I look for chances to further my career goals and I try to “network” (whatever that means). Like the typical Dartmouth student, I don’t have much time to myself. Going home for the weekend made me realize that I don’t spend enough of the time I actually have to myself on family. 

Over the past four weeks, my mom has called me approximately 10 times, and I have returned her calls approximately once. The calls come around 8 or 9 p.m., so I’m usually in a meeting, in the library or taking a quick power nap. I don’t call back often because there’s always something to attend to — a deadline, a friend, an event, a never-ending list of responsibilities and obligations. My call log shows much of the same pattern: my mom always calls me more than I call her. It’s not that I don’t have time to call her back — I just always feel like there’s something more important to do.

I often forget that I have a home separate from Dartmouth. I forget that there is a world outside of Dartmouth. I forget that there is a version of myself known to others who do not attend Dartmouth. This is an all-consuming place, for better or for worse — it is the type of place one would want to dive into, take advantage of every opportunity and kick down every door. I am no exception, but I am coming to the realization that my time here does not mean much to me if I’m keeping it separate from the people who raised me. If I spend so much time working toward the future I want to give my family that I end up isolating myself from them, then I haven’t accomplished much at all. Home is where the heart is, and I want to reconnect with mine.