Being so far away from home for an extended amount of time brings on a multitude of challenges – how will you go through your daily life the same (hint: you won’t)? You start to cultivate what it means to live somewhere entirely new, you learn new languages, eat new foods, maybe wake up earlier (or later!) or joined an activity you would never have back home. All of this is done with so much excitement, but that doesn’t mean you forget about the people back home.
In my first semester in Shanghai, I was super bummed out that no one could visit me. Flights were expensive, the timing wasn’t ideal, and visas were kinda hard to work out on short notice. Of course, I understood that and didn’t hold it against anyone for not visiting – I was just sad I never got to share such an amazing city with anyone back home.
Then, when I was in Milan, I felt like every other weekend was filled with people I knew from school or home. My mom visited twice, once with my sister, I traveled Europe to visit friends from school who were also abroad, hosted a handful of Americans for an extended amount of time, and that almost felt like too much. Everyone around me had a common background – how was I supposed to learn how to live authentically here?
Now in Singapore, my mom has come to visit once at the end of my semesters. So, I’ve effectively been on my own for the full three and a half months of schooling. What I’ve learned about that, about missing the people back home, is that sometimes it’s best to miss them. They’ll be there when you return. But you must work hard to make and cherish the new relationships right in front of you, because those will be the ones you miss in the long run. And now I’ve spent enough time here to introduce my mom to spoonfuls of my Singaporean life in a way that feels real, and not repetitive.
Here are some of my recommendations for when people visit you abroad:
- You don’t have to do tourist-y things just because that’s what tourists do. Bring people to where you spend time, introduce them to the people you spend time with. Let them see your new home through your lens.
- It’s ok to indulge, if you can. Is there a bar you’ve been meaning to go to but the drinks are a bit more expensive than you like? If there a day trip, a ticketed experience, something almost too far by transit that you were really meaning to go to? Try now! Experience something new together with someone that knows you well.
- Be real about your time. Don’t build up where you are and then feel like you’re lying about what you enjoyed and what you struggled with. If hanging laundry for three days because they’re never fully dry with the humidity and rain sucks, then say it sucks. If you really like food at a certain canteen, or if you really liked some dive bar you went to twice, just say it. This all contributes to letting who is with you see where you are through your lens.
- Have fun. You aren’t responsible for covering the most ground, spending the most money or having the most “efficient” trip. You’re there as a host, to someone who probably missed you, and it’s ok to take time and move slow if that’s what you enjoy more than a jam-packed schedule. Do what you think is best for the both (or all!) of you, and I’m sure whoever has come to visit will have a good time.
Here are some pictures of me and my mom: