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The beautiful dichotomy of home

Having grown up across cultures, Sharmishta reflects on a topic central to many who’ve spent time abroad – what 'home’ means to her.

By Sharmishta Sivaramakrishnan | 4 Aug 2022

Getting to celebrate National Day in 2021 was incredibly special to me, it marked my first year since moving back to Singapore.

Growing up across the Middle East, Europe, South and Southeast Asia, and North America, mentally defining and verbalising what home means to me has been equally a thought experiment as an experience of perambulating between places. The amalgamation of meaningful coincidences, unplanned characters, and surprise pathways have served to make this process truly evolutionary.

My definition of home has been as much about the process of defining and redefining its essence as it is about the anchors in themselves.

Home for me is the beautiful dichotomy that envelopes stillness and movement – it is a quiet 8 am stroll through Singapore’s Botanic Gardens on a Sunday morning as much as it is surviving the bustle to the corner supermarket on Bangkok’s Sukhumvit Soi 20 where my family lived for almost a decade.

My family lives in Vietnam, making it another new home for me rife with new places to explore (Sa Pa, Vietnam)

Home is also the menu of familiar and never-before-tried options. It is the comfortable refuge of an oat milk cappuccino at my neighbourhood cafe in Singapore’s River Valley . In the same vein, it’s also the jet-lagged hunt for a charming cold brew at the industrial Sightglass’ coffee warehouse in San Francisco during a work trip.

My parents and I have a messaging group called the Global Nomad Trio. This is us in the mid 1990s in India on one of our more “local” trips to the park.

Home is also the familiar voices of my childhood, and the serendipitous encounters – it is my mother telling me dinner is ready in the living room. But it’s also discussing international climate negotiations with a perfect stranger at a homemade pasta bar tucked in a Beijing hutong (yes a place like this actually exists!).

Home is the duality of having people visit you as much as it is about visiting them – it is my best friend of 15 years and I alternating visits to each other between Amsterdam, Geneva and Singapore.  It’s also about making time for my annual (COVID-19 aside) pilgrimage to New York where I routinely spend time with friends like family from various times in my life – international schools, university, and my former jobs.

Moving back to Singapore has afforded me the precious opportunity to re-connect and celebrate special occasions like my birthday with dear Singaporean friends like Carolyn and Meiqi, who are akin to sisters.

And home is about giving back as much, if not more, as a place gives to me – be it learning from my wonderful peers in the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) Youth Club or taking on mentors as part of my university’s Alumni network. In short, home is this constant dichotomy of people, shared experiences, and the sentiments they collectively evoke. The definition of home will, in some ways, always be elusive, as metaphysical for me as it is emotional.

I feel immensely fortunate to hold a definition of home that feels only more intimate as time and my geographic experiences widen. However, I believe that home’s facets can be fully felt from one location with as simple of an action as taking different walking routes. It is this multi-dimensionality in experience that I hope, one day, every Singaporean gets to experience. Our island has a plethora of experiences waiting to be had, and individual owners of these experiences with their own unique definitions of home. The beauty of the little red dot is that through interacting with each other, be it striking up a conversation with the person next to you on the MRT or silently observing passerbys from a hawker centre, you will inevitably learn about how another person experiences their “home”.

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected how each of us makes a place our home. With national lockdowns, and impeded travel, many of us changed how we perceived our homes. While some chose to relocate countries, others took the time to re-discover their home nations, and reconnect with their communities. The pandemic has drawn us closer while also introducing digitally-enforced separation – allowing us an opportunity to think about what we value most in our homes while also separating us through never-ending screen time (endless Zoom calls for breakfast, am I right?).

As I celebrate Singapore’s National Day this year, I will be celebrating the little red dot as much as the other cities and countries that have left a soulprint on me. Home is the dichotomy of all of my cultures, my colourful canvas of friends and family, and the unexpected experiences which fall in between.

About Sharmishta

A proud “citizen of many worlds”, Sharmishta Sivaramakrishnan was raised in the Middle East, Europe, South and Southeast Asia, and North America.

She currently works as a strategy consultant at EY-Parthenon. Prior to this role, Sharmishta served in the Government of Singapore as well as worked at institutions committed to the global public good such as the World Economic Forum, Asian Development Bank and the United Nations.

Sharmishta is a member of the Singapore National Youth Council’s INSPIRIT community, a fellow of the Harpswell ASEAN programme in Women’s Leadership and an Executive Committee member of SINDA Youth Club. She is also an amateur photographer, painter, and freelance writer.

Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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