Embracing Belonging

By Candace Kade

Signing my first book as an author was a surreal experience. 

When I opened up that first box of books, my fingers trembled from excitement and I could hardly open it. With crude gestures, I forced the lid back and snatched up my first book. Sniffing the fresh cut paper and running tingling fingers over the glossy cover, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. 

I’d done it. 

Naturally, the next thing to do after becoming a published author is to practice a fancy author signature. So, I took pen to paper and . . .

I squinted at my name staring back at me in bold, black Sharpie letters. 

Something was missing. But what? That was my name, but it was only part of me. The other part was on the opposite side of a glittering blue ocean.

Memories of my time growing up in China flashed before my eyes. 

On the way to Chinese school, I walked through bustling streets, avoiding rickshaws and vendors, clinging tightly to my mother’s hand. My first day of second grade, I didn’t speak Mandarin and was absolutely terrified when they enrolled me in a local school.

In seventh grade, I rode my bike while wearing the matching blue and white uniform of the middle school. I joined fifty other students in a class room, trying to blend in. By that point, I was fluent in Mandarin and recognized the hushed whispers of “foreigner” behind my back. 

Once on my way to high school, I was running late and climbed into a taxi. Sliding into the back seat, I rattled off a string of directions in the local dialect and we were on our way. The driver kept glancing at me in the rear-view mirror. 

Finally, he cleared his throat. “You wouldn’t happen to be a foreigner, would you?”

After I assured him I was, he let out a sigh of relief. 

“I thought I was going crazy,” he said. “You sounded just like a Chinese person but when I saw your face, I knew you had to be a foreigner.”


Would that word always haunt me? Would I always be a foreigner in the places I called home? 

It didn’t matter that I sounded like a local. It didn’t matter that I ate at the same hole-in-the-wall spicy restaurants, competed in the same track events at my local school, played the same schoolyard games of jianzi, or celebrated Mooncake Festival. I would never be enough. I would never belong

My thoughts snapped back to the present as I stared at my unfinished signature. 

When I was still living in China I went by another name. I even had a chop made with my Chinese surname on it: Sun. 

Since then, I’ve gone by many names. I responded to my maiden name, then my married name, and now my pen name. Each one represents a different piece of me—the Mandarin-speaking Candace, the college student, the young professional, wife, mother, and now, author. All of them a piece of me but not the whole. 

Sometimes I’ve lost myself in between vastly different worlds, cultures, life stages, and homes—leaving pieces of myself scattered across the world. 

Moving was a way of life for me, and among the many moves, I lost that chop. 

When I first arrived in my new home, I was at the peak of my travels. Determined to explore thirty countries before I turned thirty, I was abroad all the time. Wedding in India? RSVP yes! Birthday in Thailand? Done. Need help carrying your groceries in Rio de Janeiro? Okay, that never happened, but I did visit Brazil.

But no matter how many countries I visited, wonders of the world I posed next to, or passports I had stamped, I never found those scattered pieces of myself.

I discovered something else instead.

Gradually, a realization took root. I may not always be able to change the way people see me. But I can change the way I see myself.

I can choose to let that ache for home and belonging consume me, or I can choose to embrace it for the gift it is and remember that I always have a home. 

I may not always be able to change the way people see me. But I can change the way I see myself.

Home is wherever I am today, and because of my global upbringing, I can be at home anywhere. 

Now, when I’m in China, I let the stares and whispers roll off my back. I will always be different but that doesn’t mean I don’t belong. 

When I’m in the US, I just laugh when I mispronounce a word or miss some cultural reference. Again. 

It took me many years to understand that growing up as a TCK, I don’t have to choose between China or America. I’m not two broken pieces of the whole. I’m not either this or that. 

I’m not perfect, but I can embrace and reflect both cultures beautifully in my own unique way.

I never found that chop, but I did have a new one made.

My author signature now has my Chinese surname stamped to the left, and my English last name signed on the right. 

For anyone who’s ever felt neither here nor there, I wrote my novel Enhanced for you. May you feel seen and heard. 

You belong.


*Contact Candace Kade for a TCK Discussion Guide to use while reading Enhanced!

Candace Kade is a recovering over-achiever who spends her time dreaming up stories typically involving tech, psychology, culture, and/or swords. She’s a certified Krav Maga assistant instructor and loves writing action-packed martial art scenes. A third culture kid, she considers Chengdu and Austin to be her homes.

When she’s not exploring new countries, she enjoys hiking in national parks, moving (again!), teaching her husband Mandarin, and keeping a baby human alive. She can be bribed with boba tea, fluffy puppies, and breakfast tacos.

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