Way Back Home: Miles apart but close at heart
My never-ending readjustment as an international student
February 16, 2020
Hi everyone! My name is Hermian Wan, and I’m a sophomore from Hong Kong. The responses I get from this basic introduction that I have given in front of new classmates, friends or to Uber drivers are different from the responses most Vandy students would get. A response I often get is: “Wow, oh my God! Really? That’s so cool!” I admit that being among the special few is pretty cool, and my life as an international student at Vandy has so far been gratifying with its renowned combination of work and fun. However, traveling twenty-two hours across the globe to study here also entails various hardships and challenges that are often not mentioned.
As one of the very few students from Hong Kong at Vandy, it has been a bittersweet experience, especially amidst the escalating political tension and coronavirus outbreak in my home town during the past year. Although my fellow friends, classmates and professors are all extremely caring and empathetic, it is difficult for others to truly understand how I felt.
Imagine having to call your parents every day to make sure they arrived home safely. Imagine being constantly worried about whether your friends from home are going to get sick or arrested. Imagine having to desperately search for surgical masks for your family on multiple platforms every day because they’re sold out while you are already very caught up in school work. Imagine living a comfortable life while knowing that your parents are fighting deadly viruses on the other side of the globe. That has been part of my everyday life, and millions of international students’ lives in the past year.
I encourage everyone who’s reading this article to acknowledge the struggles and burdens carried by a lot of students who are far from home. To me, the most exhausting and stressful part of being an international student is not adapting to a new environment and lifestyle, but to be constantly reminded of the privilege and comfort of being here at Vandy.
Living so far away from home during a time when my homeland is facing major challenges has raised countless questions for me. How could I possibly help if I’m so far away? Do I deserve to live in such comfort? Should I be free from the overwhelming stress everyone from home is suffering from? I’m constantly faced with all these questions that yield no right answers. To make things worse, not a single person I know here is from my home town or speaks Cantonese.
Many college students are far from home and it’s normal for us to feel homesick or nostalgic from time to time. Yet, the huge time difference and the packed academic schedule at Vandy doesn’t make it any easier for students like me to connect with my family and friends. The fourteen-hour time difference between Nashville and Hong Kong has accentuated my feeling of disconnection, indifference and helplessness towards incidents happening back home. The subtle sense of guilt and helplessness amassed together with increasing academic stress as a sophomore can quickly become a snowball of negativity that makes day to day tasks difficult. It is then imperative for me to be able to think through my subconscious feelings and dig myself out of the vicious cycle of stress and anxiety.
After having lived in the States for more than a year and a half, I’m now—again—challenged to reevaluate and readjust my life as an international student. The process of adjusting and adapting used to be a one-time and intuitive process for me. But, recent events have prompted a process of constant readjustment. I’ve been trying to be mindful of my thoughts and emotions to achieve emotional balance and adjust these struggles. In this column, I’ll be bringing you on my journey of continuous readjustment and exploration in a foreign land.
Last but not least, I would like to share with other readers far away from home and going through similar internal struggles one of my favorite scenes from the classic millennial childhood novel, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Dumbledore once told Harry that “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” Whenever I’m feeling down, I like to remind myself that it does not do to dwell on things that are out of my hands and forget to live.