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Just like fruits bear from the same roots and drink from the same rain, family commonly refers to people living under the same roof. However, my understanding of family changed during the recent pandemic. I still remember the morning my father read aloud news of COVID to the family. I was on New Year vacation with my family in Florence, Italy. Sitting in front of my bowl of cereal, I could see the sunlight shining onto our stunned faces, but none of us could feel the warmth. It was the perfect weather for vacation, but I couldn’t care less about it. All I could think about was some unknown virus spreading rapidly in my hometown. The window separated us from the outside world. We couldn’t hear the bustling crowd on the street, nor could they feel our sudden depression.

Soon, the pandemic was not simply news, it became the reality. In the middle of a vacation in a foreign country, our Asian appearance didn’t help. When we walked on streets, some people would shoot glances at us in a strange way, which made me feel uneasy and unconsciously wanted to stay close to my family, hiding from their looks. Within a few days, the anticipated vacation turned into a frustration. Everyone was tired of the uncertainties and just wanted to go home; however, it wasn’t that easy, as our flight was canceled. Italy completely shut down all flights to China. With flight schedules changing by the minute, my father was calling the airlines again and again to try to book a flight. For days, all I could hear was the ringtone of the airline. The monotonous tune sounded especially piercing in our desperate silence. Living in all kinds of homestays and hotels, we traveled like nomads, never staying at one place for more than a few days. Through our struggle, I finally learned that it doesn’t matter where you live, but who you live with. Home became more than just a place, and family became more than just people biologically related to me.

After a few months, just as my family and I thought everything was getting back on track, we were separated again for the second time. I felt hopeless in trying to keep my family together. While my mother stayed in China, my father, sister, and I had to leave. What’s even worse is that this parting was indefinite. I not only had to move to a new place, but also had to transfer to an American school. It became obvious the move was not a temporary arrangement. But still, I yearned to return to normalcy of every day, blaming all my problems on the separation. I thought that once we are together again, everything will be okay. Finally after being separated for one year, I was forced to accept the truth that we will not be reuniting in the near future.

Therefore, I began to rethink the term “home” again. Home doesn’t need to be a physical building, nor does it need to be physically together with your family. Instead, home is about staying connected with your family. Sure, being together is a way of bonding, but in the modern age, especially during the pandemic, virtual meeting is also another major way of connecting with loved ones. Now, even being separated from my mom and for more than two years, I still video chat with her every night. We talk just like we did at the dinner table before the pandemic. In a way, I was thankful for the challenges I went through. Soon, I will likely go to college, and I cannot stay with my family forever; however, I can always stay connected with them. Through this unique experience, I have not only come to truly appreciate the deeper meaning of home, but I also have become more independent in a “beauty-fully” unexpected way.

© Jasmine Lu. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team and we can put you in touch with the author’s teacher.