By Arianna Bernas, Opinion Editor
The International Students: intrepid, curious, and hungry to prove ourselves. Oftentimes, it seems as if we’ve always wanted an educational experience outside of home, and for some of us that may be true. But no matter how ready we may feel we are, leaving home and everything we know is not easy.
I am by no means attempting to demean the experience of students who didn’t go abroad for school. Such a drastic change is enough to make anyone anxious, no matter how far from home, and I can’t speak for others. Those of you whose homes are separated by oceans, however, I feel I understand a little better. The stresses of adjusting to a new environment, culture and community that are so different from what we’re used to can make it tough to remember why we’re here in the first place. I’m definitely guilty of wishing I could take it all back sometimes. It’s so easy to forget just why I made the decision to take such a huge step out of my comfort zone. So why, then, do we do it? Why do we leave home?
Perhaps, if you’re anything like me, you’ve always known. I remember sitting on the padded mats of my childhood bedroom, listening to my mother tell me about Bryn Mawr (yes, I’m a second generation Mawrtyr): about the lanterns, the changing leaves, the waves of homesickness and the bonds she built with her friends. I could recite the Anassa Kata in my sleep even before I was admitted. She told me about how she relished in her own independence; she built her own experience and learned to live fearlessly. It quickly became something I wanted for myself. Since then, my parents and I worked together to make my dream of studying abroad come true. If you hold on to a dream for that long, it becomes almost like destiny.
For others, the idea of leaving home is complicated by the fact that where home is can be difficult to define. I was having a conversation with Cara Navarro (BMC ‘20), a friend of mine, when she brought brought this concern to light. “I’m Filipino, but I didn’t grow up in the Philippines,” she told me. “I grew up in China, Cambodia and here (the US). I don’t really know where my home is.” For Cara, leaving home was less about leaving a place, but more about leaving the most constant presence in her life thus far: her family. For someone like me, who’s only lived in one place her whole life, leaving home was about leaving both the familiarity of Manila and the comfort of my family and friends.
What Cara and I both had in common was that we both felt out of place. I can’t remember a time growing up that I didn’t think about leaving home, which feels horrible to say now. Despite having lived in the Philippines my whole life, I grew up in international schools and constantly got glimpses into to other cultures alongside my own. I remember drawing a self portrait when I was about five or six and giving it to my parents. Understandably, they were pretty upset; I’d drawn myself with blonde hair and blue eyes. Even though it was crudely drawn, that portrait was an expression of how I felt. I always felt that my experience wasn’t truly Filipino, because I hadn’t gone to a traditional school and I could only speak Tagalog well enough to get by. It isn’t anybody’s fault but mine; had I not decided on pursuing my dream of studying abroad, I would’ve had a more traditional upbringing. But it always made sense to me that I should leave because I thought it would somehow help me realise where I belong.
More than anything, though, I think what drove me to leave home was my desire to be independent. Even if I’d gone to college at home and lived on my own, my family would’ve been so accessible. Maybe you’re like me, and you wanted this kind of intrepid independence, far removed from everything you know. Maybe you don’t want it. In any case, we signed up to grow up. Leaving home is a pivotal point in all our lives; it signifies us stepping, no matter how tentatively, into adult life. And as scary at is may seem, it’s also incredibly exciting.
That’s where this column comes in. Over the course of the next couple of months, I’ll be sharing with you what my life is like as an international student at Bryn Mawr. I’ll be sharing my experience in hopes that you, wherever you may call home, will come to understand and appreciate your own experience. Most of all, I hope what I have to say makes you feel a little less displaced, and a little more at home.
From the print edition published Oct. 5, 2016