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An international student’s perspective on Family Weekend

It was so nice to see so many happy faces on campus last weekend. Everything seemed a little bit brighter, not only because of the apocalyptic return of summer weather in mid-fall, but because of the lively atmosphere as people reconnected with their families. Even the longer lines were somewhat worth waiting in for the energy with which they buzzed.

Though my family were 9000 miles away, I still enjoyed the weekend’s events on my own. I made friends with the people behind me in the queue for food truck cookie dough, then walked over to Kracum to watch a performance of Schumann’s Dichterliebe (the cookie dough made me feel a little ill, but the concert was incredible). The sound of Saturday night’s fireworks provided a dramatic backdrop as I binge-watched the new season of Netflix’s “You” alone in my dorm.

Between leaving my house in Singapore and arriving in Northfield for Fall Term, I spent 30 hours in transit. Naturally, my family visiting over this midterm break wasn’t much of an option. Nobody in their right mind would suffer such a torturous commute and pay so much money for plane tickets, just to enjoy three days with their daughter—even if they do love her very much.

I’m not too homesick yet, as I’ve only been away for five weeks. Especially after being home for much of last year due to the pandemic, I’m ready to have some distance for a bit. I’m sure, however, that by spring break I’ll be very jealous of everyone who can go home.

This experience was much harder for my freshman self. Before then, I’d never been away from home longer than a couple of weeks, and didn’t yet know what to do with all my newfound independence. My roommate was from Minneapolis and would drive up to visit every other weekend, as if to taunt her very homesick friend. Family Weekend back then was a sad reminder of how I was still an outsider struggling to find my roots in a strange new land. By summer, I couldn’t wait to come home—I’d even started to miss my brother a little bit.

My parents found it even harder to adjust to me being away than I did (I don’t blame them—I can’t imagine what it must be like to be separated from a personality as amazing as mine). My mum did manage to come with me when I first moved into college. We spent a few days before move-in wandering around town, poking our noses into every store on Division Street and marveling at the consumerist wonderland that is Target. It was a great time, and she was a crying wreck as I saw her off (which of course made me a crying wreck too). Ever since then she’s been very eager to return and has been dropping not-so-subtle hints on our weekly calls about visiting next summer.

I doubt I would have had too many thoughts and feelings about Family Weekend had I not known I would be writing an article about it. I’m very fortunate that I will be able to go home for winter break; being away from home is much easier if I know when I’ll next be able to return. However, due to factors such as COVID, some international students have been stuck on campus all year. I talked to my (anonymous) friend from China who hasn’t been home in almost two years, since January 2020. 

He explained that travellers to Beijing have to serve a four-week quarantine, which has made going home a challenge. The longest he’d been away from home before this was 3 months.

“I really hope [I can go home next summer], but then if I want to do research or work, then it’s gonna make it hard … I don’t wanna get my hopes up,” he said.

As for his feelings around Family Weekend, he added, “It’s definitely a mix. I’m glad that my friends can see their family and I’m happy for them … but then part of me is a little bit jealous. I’m glad that their families are here for them, but at the same time, it’s like they’ve been home multiple times, they’ve seen their families over the summer and everything, and I’m just sitting here—you know, it’s a year and ten months.”

“I also have it easy compared to some people,” he continued. “I wasn’t just on campus for the whole time because that would have been even more rough.” 

His roommate’s family has become something of an “adopted family”—”That definitely helps. I think that’s why, personally, I’m doing better than if I didn’t have that.”

One advantage of having my family on the other side of the world is that it’s nice to keep my home and college lives separate. There was nobody here this weekend to judge how full my laundry basket has been getting or how long my mirror has gone without a wipe-down, although my parents do still manage to regularly berate my study habits over Skype.

It was mostly just nice to see my friends a little happier this weekend. I hope that all my fellow international friends enjoyed their breaks as best they could alone, and are able to be reunited with their families as soon as possible.

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