SEATTLE – At the ripe old age of fourteen and a half, I’ve lived in the suburbs of the Seattle area in Washington, U.S.A. for my entire life. Perhaps this is the reason why I sometimes struggle to call Seattle my “home” – I can’t compare it to anywhere else.
On the outside, Seattle seems almost invisible. Despite its impressive skyline – a scattered array of urban buildings alongside the silhouette of Mount Rainier – the city is usually seen in shades of grey.
When it rains, as it does nearly daily for most of the calendar year, Seattle hides underneath umbrellas and yellow raincoats, leaving nothing more than the omnipresent sky and the patter of puddles and shuffling feet.
When the skies eventually clear up, however, the beauty of the Pacific Northwest shines through.
In addition to the enormous evergreen trees that dot the roadsides, the state of Washington is known for their parks and trails. No matter where you live, there always seems to be a hiking trail, gravel lookout, or stormwater pond nearby – little pockets of adventure, if you know where to look.
On the other hand, the heart of Seattle has a bit more kick to it. The teetering buildings and agonizing traffic give the area a big-city feel, and as you walk past the office buildings with tiny people sitting in their cubicles at nine in the morning, there’s a distinct energy in the air – crisp and formal, yet buzzing with excitement.
The heart of Seattle is also home to many of America’s largest tech companies, including Microsoft, T-Mobile, and Amazon. Because of this, it’s almost expected that high school graduates pursue computer science, engineering, or similar fields, leaving humanities kids feeling ostracized and unprepared for adult life.
As many high school students would tell you, the future can feel like a choice between a software engineer or a hamburger flipper.
The urban feel to the heart of Seattle, combined with the adventurous, nature-y style of the surrounding area, makes the suburbs feel like a perfect balance. As you drive out of my residential neighborhood, for instance, you’ll pass by an alpaca farm. Keep going five minutes more, and you can spot a shopping mall from the freeway.
In this way, the suburbs of Seattle can feel like a bubble. Safe and enclosed, where the average teenager’s main worry is their college application, the area has shielded me from the “real world” where not everyone’s dad works for a tech giant and lives in a four-bedroom home.
Some days, I’m grateful to spend my childhood in a safe, progressive, and pleasantly boring neighborhood. Other days, I wonder what the world would look like if I didn’t wear the glasses of privilege.
On paper, Seattle is home. I’ve lived here for nearly 15 years – in the same house with the same Washington State and Washington D.C. confusion. In the grocery store, I see the same cashier who used to watch three-year-old me in the drop and shop daycare.
Seattle checks every box for my dream hometown, and I can’t see myself living anywhere else.
But in reality, Seattle feels a little distant. Sometimes, I have a hard time recognizing my hometown. I forget that the Kirkland Signature jar of Costco peanut butter is named for my Kirkland, the town 15 minutes away, where I was born and go to school.
It takes a second to remember that 1 Microsoft Way, the address written at the bottom of every Microsoft email, is that Microsoft campus – the one I pass by every day on the bus ride to school.
Perhaps one day, after I’ve left Seattle, it will feel different, tethered to memories and hometown nostalgia. Maybe I’ll come to fully appreciate its tech powerhouse or the tranquil safety of my neighborhood.
But for now, the cliché saying holds true: home is a feeling, not a place. And as I continue my adventures both in Seattle and elsewhere, I continue to search for a place to call home.
Jasmine Zhen is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.