When I decided I would apply to colleges in America, I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into. I knew that, for people in the Philippines, studying abroad was linked with higher chances of job acceptances, an almost guaranteed success and a lot of congratulatory praises from uncles and aunts. I knew from pictures posted online that universities in America had high-class facilities, numerous opportunities, passionate professors and a lot of hunky-looking men. And I knew that my parents wanted me to realize an education beyond the borders of my country and that I wanted to make them proud. So, I decided I would try.
A standardized test, several essays, an acceptance letter and a plane ride later, I would soon discover why people regarded an education abroad so highly. What I didn't know then was that about 30 percent of international college students struggled with homesickness. I would also soon discover this reality.
I never really got a fair grasp of university life abroad until I actually lived it. For some, it's easy to adjust. But I happened to be a part of the few that thought otherwise. For my first few weeks, I woke up everyday looking at the unfamiliar ceilings of my dorm room and suddenly felt this indescribable empty sensation. Reality sunk in: I was alone, without my best friends, without my family, facing this overwhelming college experience ... all by myself. And it scared me.
I forgot what admiration and prestige I attached to studying abroad because of this overwhelming homesickness. I guess the prime suspect in this mystery of my sadness was because I was so clingy with the Philippines. Skype and Facebook were my favorite companions. My eyes were always glued to the pixels of my laptop or phone, chatting away with my friends and family back home. When things suddenly appeared on my newsfeed, I got sad thinking about the many moments I was missing out with my friends. I was afraid that I might drift away from them. If I had stayed, I would have been in that photo, I would have gone to that event and I wouldn't be missing out. If I had stayed, I might not have to be afraid of being forgotten.
The culture here didn't help stop my clinginess either. As an international student, it was hard to relate to people who didn't understand the setting I came from. I'd sometimes find myself using a word from my language that didn't have a direct translation in English. Or feeling the need to reference something from back home. But who was going to understand me? It was hard connecting to people who didn't grasp a big part of who I was.
It took about 120 days for that long, painful first semester to finish. I couldn't imagine experiencing seven sets more of those. Good thing I didn't have to.
I don't remember when I finally started to really adjust to the way of life abroad. It was probably around the time I started my second semester. I had just come back from an amazing month-long winter break in the Philippines and, for some reason, I was excited to get back on campus.
Over break, I realized a couple of things.
First was that even if I was far away from my close friends, I could still revive the dynamics of the friendships I had. Being around my friends still felt so natural. Although we all grew variably as individuals, our friendships still remained strong and unchanged. I realized I had no reason to be afraid of drifting away.
Second, I recognized that my clinginess blinded me from appreciating what I already had and what I could still discover. I kept comparing my student groups and activities to what I used to have. I kept trying to find friends who resembled ones back home. But it was unfair for me to compare and I was never going to find similar people. And that's okay. Once I came to terms with this, I started to appreciate my organizations and even discovered my new families away from home. There were also so many learning opportunities I had yet to discover: professors to get to know, classes to take, issues to tackle, the world to explore.
Lastly, I realized that although I was missing concerts, parties, and music festivals back home, if I had not taken the opportunity of studying abroad then I would have skipped out on more things. I wouldn't have been able to explore different fields of study, have late night talks with friends of different cultures, gain the flexibility in curriculum to find my real passion, learn independence through the power of freedom and discover more about myself when pushed beyond my comfort zone.
The journey was definitely difficult and I'll admit I'm still adjusting. But things are looking brighter and I'm starting to understand that, at least for now, this is where I should be. I'm gaining more friends, learning through different experiences, challenging my limits and understanding more about the world and myself. I still can't wait until I get back home again, but, at least now, I'm discovering happiness in every single day leading up to it.
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