The Collegian
Monday, October 02, 2023

Goodbye, again: The International Student Cycle

<p>Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

The last week is always the hardest. Everything I do feels nostalgic, and I long for the chance to do it again. Suddenly, each action becomes so much more meaningful as youI note it as your last, at least for a while.

The last Monday when I can wake up late in the afternoon. The last midnight McDonald's trip, as we sneak out for nuggets and ice cream. The last time to enjoy a family meal at a local dim-sum restaurant. The last roti canai I taste in the local mamak. The last hug I share with my best friends. The last birthday surprise as I catch up with old peers. The last time I sit in the passenger seat with my sister behind the wheel, driving for groceries.

From transferring my gym membership to finishing the last bit of shampoo, ensuring I don't bring half a bottle back; the most mundane and simple tasks become sad. 

Slowly, you recognize these moments as memories you treasure, quality time spent you may never get again. You start to miss the little things, no matter how bad they were; the way the sunlight hits your face in the morning, the extremely uncomfortable humidity as it rains, and even the way mosquitoes buzz around in the garden. And the worst part is that the cycle never seems to end.

I'm no stranger to leaving home on my own. I've done it for three years now: in high school, where I studied in India for two years, and college here in Richmond. Yet somehow, each time feels more difficult than the last, but why?

Could it be the lingering feeling of comfort and belonging that gets left behind as I leave for a new country? Could it be the sense of regret that I didn't get to do all you wanted to do, or that I wasted your four months doing nothing productive? Or could it perhaps be the fear that my relationships change so much that I don't recognize them anymore?

Despite experiencing this for years, I've never been able to pinpoint what exactly causes this sense of reluctance. Yet, I recognize that I'm privileged enough to be able to visit home every year, something not everyone gets the luxury to do. I know friends who haven’t seen their families since they left for school, whether that’s due to flight fees or poor internet connection. I envy their strength, yet empathize with their struggles. By living in the present moment and practicing gratitude, we can stay positive in times like these, but for now, it is still hard.

Laying on my childhood bed, I can only reminisce on the memories that I had as a child, gripping tightly to a small stuffed bear that my cousins gave to me when I was three. So much has changed in the last twenty years: loved ones coming and going, exams passing by, hugs, tears, fears, and love. Perhaps what’s holding me back is the fear that my childhood self slowly disappears every day I’m away from home. I know I’m changing every day, and it’s a natural phenomenon for everyone during adulthood, but it gets harder when you start to associate a whole country with your innocent self. What would things have been like if I never applied to study in America? What would life have been like if I decided to continue my STEM path? What if I never left home?

Going to a new country is always scary, especially one that is 15,000 kilometers – about 9,000 miles – away. No matter how many times I do it, it’s always scary entering a country where you don’t have many people you identify with. From being in a place with 33.5 million people from the same country to having a grand total of two (soon to be three) Malaysians at the University of Richmond (shoutout to Doro and Yue Kin!), feelings of isolation start to grow. However, coming to UR has given me great opportunities, allowing me to meet new people, some of whom I’ve grown very fond of. I can’t imagine what things would have been like if I decided not to leave home. I’m proud of my decision. With every day that passes, I’m one step closer to another journey. I invite uncertainty. I celebrate it. 

As I head to the airport, I remember the air conditioning units surrounding its interior, blasting cold air as memories of my home fill the air. I know that we international students feel like birds at this moment, leaving the comfort of our nests to fly away with the hopes of a brighter future. I know that this sentiment is shared by so many people across the globe leaving their comfort zones for better opportunities to come. Perhaps the feeling of unity is what keeps me going, knowing that I'm not alone in feeling this way. All I know is that as soon as I cross the gate, I'm in for a new journey. As I see the ones that I love wave at me one last time, I wave back, saying goodbye, again.

Contact multimedia editor Gareth Woo at gareth.woo@richmond.edu 

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