Home in a foreign land

Dristy Rahman reflects on her experience of studying abroad.


I had just moved to Singapore, overwhelmed by the idea of living alone and having no one to stop me from doing anything. It was my first day there. I went home and took a shower, unaware of the horror that I’d have to face in a while. It felt like a scene from a horror movie where you are taking a shower and suddenly realize the water is clogged. The water reached up to my ankles, cold and still. I bend to check, only to find out that my long strands of hair got stuck in the shower drain. I stood there with profound fear and revulsion, contemplating if coming here was actually worth it. As I groaned and shook my head in utter disgust, I had made my choice; in that moment (while running my fingers through the plate of the shower drain), I regretted nothing more than leaving the luxury of having a maid back in Bangladesh. Absolute and pure regret.

Millions of people around the world take the big step of living in a different country leaving the one that they grew up in. One of the most significant reasons is that a foreign culture may be more suitable to your personality, attitude, and beliefs than your native one. It might have something to do with the way in which people interact with one another, the festivals, the art, and not to forget the food! It is wonderful to go and live abroad in order to be immersed in a culture that is extraordinary to you, where you can experience things that wouldn’t be offered at home.

Another motivation for this may be the work or study opportunities. Your perfect job or degree may just be waiting for you over there in need of your skills, knowledge, and ambition. It can also be CV enhancing as some would say. Living abroad can give you the competitive edge in a tough job market. When I went to Singapore and saw the university campus, I was at a loss of words. I felt like I could live there for the rest of my life. It was too good to be true. Slowly, that changed. It usually does for everyone. You make as many friends as possible, party every other night, visit places, go shopping, and eat all the delicacies the country has to offer. You fly high in the sky, and then suddenly your bank balance decides to drag you down to the ground, where you belong.

From sorting out residency papers and visas to negotiating rent and setting up a bank account, nothing is simple, easy or familiar while transitioning abroad. So, for all the people who think moving abroad is a piece of cake or a long-term vacation, you couldn’t be more wrong. It’s a daily battle that almost always leaves you questioning, ‘Is this what I really want?’ Yes, there will be moments when you will want to burst into tears (probably in a metro or the subway), but that’ll only make you more resilient. You’ll learn to pick yourself up and become your own best cheerleader.

Whenever people hear that you’d be moving abroad, they would fake a little ‘Oh you’re so lucky; you’re going to have the time of your life, and maybe fall in love’ response. Well, hello! The movies got it all wrong. Nobody just goes abroad and randomly buys a villa in Tuscany (unless you are super rich), nor does a millionaire fall in love with you on the driveway. Our generation was raised on glamorised half-truths and idealised travel experiences.

Moving abroad is hard; it’s challenging, and you don’t always find what you are looking for. Modern media has romanticised traveling and living overseas, making it seem both effortless and easy, when in reality, it can be exhausting. You’ll have to focus on maintaining your grades, doing your laundry and will often come back home to an empty fridge along with an empty stomach. Then again, all the challenges that go into moving abroad make the experience all the more rewarding and memorable. There is no movie out there that can truly capture just how amazing it is to have that experience under your belt because, it’s one of those ‘you really have to be there’ moments.

Let me fill you in on another little secret; you are allowed to get mad, pissed and even hate your new country now and then. It’s like a relationship really. I hated how the toilets didn’t have hand showers and you had to solely rely on tissue paper. I remember carrying an empty water bottle in my bag every time I went out. So, bottle water, but don’t bottle in your feelings, otherwise they will boil over and explode, which never ends well. Ever.

For me, the hardest part of living abroad was feeling like I belonged neither here nor there. People always talk about ‘finding yourself’ or ‘going on a journey to self-discovery’ as a reason for traveling, and as much as I think it’s way overplayed nowadays I can understand where people are coming from; after all, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ was popular for a reason. When you move away, you learn and broaden your horizons. Yes, you get homesick, and even miss the home cooked meals which you tried to avoid back at home, but you also shape memories that stay with you forever. All your senses sharpen up, and for a while the word ‘routine’ is dismissed from your vocabulary to make space for ever rising adrenalin thrill ride. Starting anew should terrify you, but this powerful mix of emotions gets unusually addictive.

Simplest of tasks become a challenge; knowing which bus to take or translating the second language in your head. There are always moments of distress, but you’re soon filled with more patience than you ever knew you had. The worst part about leaving is to miss all the birthdays, celebrations, and occasions. Skype calls with your family and old friends can never measure up to real hugs and warm touch. A food, song, or even a smell can upset you in the middle of the day. You miss those little things you never thought you’d miss, and you’d give anything to go back to that place, even if it were just for an instant.

One day, however, there will come a time when you’ll suddenly feel at home in your new city. Home will be the random stuff in your new flat, all those memories, all those long-distance calls with everyone back there waiting for your return and home will be a bunch of pictures you have taken throughout this journey of life. Your heart will find a new home, in a new country. It may be temporary, it may be forever. So, carpe diem!
Dristy Rahman is a self-proclaimed magical bunny, whose glittery wand of positivity casts pink spotlights on key issues, and sprinkles progressive outlook on life.

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