Where Are You From?

A brief reflection on my adoption, life in Lincoln, Nebraska and future in Jiangshan, China.


The title of this post was a question I frequently asked a lot of new friends in college, and many of the responses I got were short and sweet.

I’m from here in Lincoln.
I’m from San Diego, California! (WHY did you choose UNL?!)
I’m from a small town just outside of Lincoln, called Papillion. 
I’m from Natal, Brazil! 

Then came the predictable follow-up question: What about you? And my answer was not as simple. For a while, I couldn’t decide whether I should say I am from China, or I am from Lincoln, or I am adopted from China, but have lived in Lincoln ever since my adoption. I felt that such a subject shouldn’t be presented so early on in a potential friendship, especially to those that I would most likely never see again. However, as time passed, I found it easiest to just be straightforward and say that I am adopted from China, but consider Lincoln my hometown.

I learned very quickly that my response to the question of “Where are you from?” generated a genuine curiosity that helped continue a conversation with a new face, which in times past was not exactly how things went down. In high school, I was rarely asked where my hometown was because everyone assumed everyone was from Lincoln. And when I did say I was adopted, inquisitive questions were unlikely. I guess that just goes to show how shallow high schoolers can be! On top of that, when I was younger, I never really distinguished that I was in some ways different from everyone else. I just saw myself as another kid with annoying but loving parents and a student trying to get good grades. This whole notion of adoption being an unfamiliar topic to many of my peers was just not something I considered.  So as you can imagine, this new inquisitive response I received in college after disclosing my adoption was odd and sometimes uncomfortable.

Despite feeling as if I was giving out too much about myself too soon, and often times repeating my thoughts about my adoption like a parrot, I became used to the scenario. This is my life, and I intend on owning it. There’s really no other option. 

Once I started having conversations about my past with my peers, it opened the door to a whole new collection of thoughts that I hadn’t explored prior. My feelings about being adopted were never discussed at depth with my parents when I was younger. I mean, yes, they told me at a very young age that I was adopted and what that meant, but I was never asked how I felt about that and why I felt the ways that I did. Therefore, these conversations with friends allowed me to dissect my thoughts and learn about a part of myself that I had never really analyzed before.

I figured out that I 100% view Lincoln, Nebraska as my hometown. Lincoln is the city that provided me with my very first home, parks to explore in, restaurants to eat my heart out at, jobs to give me financial stability, and people to love. Though with that said, I also realized that a part of my life was absent. Absent not only from my current every day experiences, but also absent from my mind, my memories. And that was the place I was born, my other hometown, Dian Bai, China. As time passed and I grew older, this absence developed a newfound curiousity and at times agonizing longing to uncover the unknown.

At the time, I knew as much about China as the average American, which is essentially that everything Americans use is made in China and that China has a strict child policy (a law that used to only allow 1, but now 2, children per household). With such a huge part of my life in the shadows, I decided it was time to do something about it, which is where my teach abroad adventure to China comes in to play! During my second year of college, I made a goal for myself to live and teach English in China before I die. (I didn’t think the opportunity would come so quick!) Living in China would allow me to immerse myself in my biological culture and learn about my roots, and teaching English in China would feed my soul by helping others.

And look where I am now. 🙂

In just a few more days, I’m outta here on a one way ticket to Shanghai, China for AYC Orientation Week! This moment seemed so far away last winter when I received the acceptance email from Ameson, welcoming me into their AYC Program. And despite venturing off to a whole new world shortly, I still don’t think it’s fully set in that I will be leaving the place that I have called home for nearly 21 years.

As I type this post out, I reflect on all the memories that Lincoln and I have shared. I learned how to walk at the house on Sumner Circle. I met my first best friend and discovered my love for dance at the dance studio on 48th Street! I went through my first love and heartbreak at Lincoln High (dramatic, I know). I grew to learn who I truly am at UNL. Heck, I even ran a half marathon through the streets of Lincoln! Obviously, all of these places in my hometown have a special spot in my heart and before I know it, I’ll be adding to this collection of memories, except the backdrop will be in my other hometown: China.

Until next time,
Heather Mei

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