I have lived away from my home country since I was eight years old. I have lived on three different continents, four countries and five different cities. Whilst I am grateful for having had these opportunities, the word ‘home’ for me is temporary and ambiguous.
After years of having lived in Toronto without a single close family member, I only recently realized that the concepts of ‘comfort’ and ‘safety’ have also become foreign to me. And recently I am noticing this to also be true among other immigrant students around the world. I guess in our day and age, sending your kids off to college across the world is such a norm that nobody really takes the time to think about the challenges and emotional burdens it might pose. Or that the pros of sending your kids off to get a good education outweigh the cons of the psychological baggage it might bear.
But, if I were to give some advice to the parents of the future generations, I would want them to know a couple of things.
Moving out alone can be exciting and very helpful in the lessons of responsibility it can teach us, but it can also be very isolating, immensely overwhelming and provide a feeling of insecurity. The constant stress and anxiety that might emerge as a result of financial difficulties, health-related obstacles, administrative or career-related challenges, etc., can create a sense of insecurity.
Unforeseeable circumstances can occur at any time, like a global pandemic which can create distance between families like never before. Under these circumstances, how is a young immigrant student who does not even really feel at home supposed to balance school, health, work and emotional well-being without the support of her close relatives? Just last month, a close friend of mine who lives in Paris got COVID-19. She had no one to make her soup, give her medicine or take her temperature. All alone, a 25-year-old-year-old girl had to take care of herself when she could barely get up from her bed to go to the bathroom.
I know that responsibility comes with growing up, but growing up in a place that isn’t home, with people that don’t feel like family, with the constant feeling that any mishap could result in major setbacks, can sometimes make these responsibilities seem impossible.
As human beings, a sense of belonging is essential to our existence. And isn’t a feeling of safety and comfort necessary to feel like we belong?