Finding home an ocean away from family

It’s been four years since I left home to come to uni! Four years! And no, I’m not an international student on paper, but I might as well be. My entire family lives overseas. Like, a nine-to-fourteen hour flight overseas.

The first year was the hardest, as it always is. I cried on the plane over, like a baby, staring out the ellipsoid window at everything I was leaving behind. I still remember the guy next to me, awkwardly trying to avoid eye contact until he realised the tears weren’t stopping and, flustered, flailed around looking for handkerchiefs.

When I got to Sheffield, the excitement took over, as did the numerous bureaucratic hurdles I needed to jump to get myself established. Like getting my bank set up, buying a phone, getting an NI number. Figuring out the bus routes before uni started – I ended up in the middle of nowhere attempting to get to my first lecture, etc.

Then uni started, and I was too busy getting used to university life to think about how homesick I was. Until winter break came along, and suddenly I had three weeks to spend alone. While everyone else hopped on a bus or a train back home, I was faced with the harsh reality that it would be over half a year before I would see my family again.

That first winter was hard, and I’m not ashamed to admit I cried a lot. I was eighteen, from a big family, used to the constant noise of three siblings and pestering parents. Sheffield felt cold and alien and grey, and I wanted more than anything to quit and go home.

I got over it though. A year passed, and then two, and then I was on my year abroad, even farther from home. I’d become more independent, the urge to return to the nest near non-existent. I came back from my year abroad, back to Sheffield, and it felt like home.

I can barely remember what homesickness felt like, with how much I’ve changed.

But the biggest change has been in my relationship with my family.

That first month, my parents called me every. Single. Day. To check up on me, to see if I was drinking enough water, buying enough vegetables and wasn’t walking home alone after 5p.m.

Now? Four years later? I’m the one randomly texting my parents updates about my day.

Don’t get me wrong – I still get the occasional FaceTime out of the blue, at the worst times. My mum will call me in the middle of a lecture asking if I’ve gone to the doctor’s recently. My Dad will ring me up to figure out if I’ve decided on a career yet. You know, the usual.

My parents and siblings are still there, only a phone call away, but there’s no longer that umbilical dependence on each other that held us together. We mostly communicate through the family group chat, milestones and updates shared through photos and emojis. And that might sound like a bad thing, and maybe in some ways it is. I’ve missed four years of my little sisters growing up, after all. Every summer I go back to more change, baffled at how the world keeps moving while I’m away. But at the same time, it’s made me stronger. I’ve grown as a person, I’ve learnt to figure things out on my own. I’ve discovered who I am, without my family.

As graduation nears, I’ve been thinking about Sheffield – bright, green and cosy Sheffield. While I’m in no hurry to leave this new home I’ve found, I know that I can if I want to, and it will be ok.

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