A Room With A View, Columns, Opinion

A Room With a View: An international student’s trip back to Ithaca

An entire branch of ancient Greek literature is dedicated to the theme of “nostos,” or homecoming. After the recounts of an epic hero’s great adventures in exotic lands, an author would also narrate his quest for the safety of his home. The latter would usually happen by sea and become a new adventure altogether, often more dangerous than the one that forced the hero away from his family nest in the first place.

The most infamous example of such a storyline is the “Odyssey” by Homer. The poem narrates the formidable navigation of the Achaean hero back to Ithaca — the island he ruled over — after winning the Trojan War.

Due to the misfortunes that Odysseus attracts on himself — partly because of his curiosity and partly because of a series of divine punishments — the hero spends 20 years at sea before he can disembark on his familiar shore. Apart from being a physically tormenting crusade, Odysseus’s “nostos” assumes the meaning of an emotional journey that symbolizes his yearning for the comfort and warmth of home.

Yvonne Tang / DFP Staff

Reflecting on the hero’s story inevitably got me thinking about how my life has changed when I committed to attending university abroad.

I am well aware of the privilege of being able to consider studying abroad. I will always be incredibly grateful for this life-changing opportunity. However, continuously traveling back and forth between my actual home country and the country I chose to call home also comes with its price.

The initial excitement of traveling internationally several times a year slowly fades. It becomes routine, similar to the neverending chore of packing and unpacking suitcases. Nevertheless, I still feel the same bittersweet melancholy when I board my umpteenth flight home, and like Ulysses, I am torn between the desire to stay away for longer and the joy of visiting my motherland.

As an international student, I strongly relate to the character’s trials and tribulations when it comes to homecoming, even from the safety of my direct flight.

Throughout his adventure, Odysseus experiences unimaginable events that teach him fundamental life lessons he would not have acquired otherwise and that may make him unrecognizable to his loved ones. For instance, he learns to avoid temptation and selfish pleasures that in the past got the best of him due to his pride.

In my experience, studying away from home inevitably means maturing faster than your peers, chiefly because of the additional anxieties one endures while alone in a foreign place.

Starting university is a daunting task, and doing so in a strange environment can be truly nerve-racking. The overall cultural shock tries a person’s adaptability and open-mindedness, two fundamental aspects of personal growth. Nevertheless, many international students struggle with this social adjustment and are confronted with unbearable loneliness. A 2019 study from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that social isolation and loneliness are particularly prevalent in the international student community.

Even if students successfully adjust to their new normalcy, their new mindsets can clash when confronted with their home reality.

Over this summer, a friend of mine accused me of becoming too politically correct after studying in the United States when we happened to discuss racism. After such a comment, I could not stop fearing that I would progressively lose any point of contact with the people I grew up with because of contrasting opinions that I could not overlook anymore.

Furthermore, changes do not only happen from within a person. When Odysseus ultimately reaches Ithaca and is eager to enjoy the harmony of his familiar life, he realizes that time did not stop while he was wandering in the Mediterranean. While remaining utterly faithful to him, his wife has infinite suitors wooing her in the hopes of obtaining the hero’s throne.

It is indeed hard to digest the idea that time does not stop simply because we are elsewhere. The Ithaca I have to leave every couple of months is never the Ithaca that I come back to, which further hinders the possibility of quickly adjusting to my former lifestyle.

Being unable to regard my home environment as familiar as it used to be and suffering shifts of family and friends dynamics is inevitable, but also undeniably heartbreaking.

By choosing to pursue my education in a foreign country, I made a series of critical commitments. I committed to years of constant farewells that never get easier, growing apart with my peers and often feeling ostracized even by lifelong friends.

Nonetheless, I also committed to embarking on a thrilling journey that has made me more mature, more educated about issues I used to be blind to and has allowed me to create my own life without any burdening baggage from the past.

Regardless of how hard it can be from time to time, attending university abroad is the best decision I’ve ever made. After all, I always have an Ithaca to return to.


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