I sat in my room late at night Wednesday, staring at the glowing top of the Campanile. I had missed dinner, my hair was oily and my hands ached after hours of continuous typing on my laptop. The last time I felt so miserable was during college application season exactly a year back. I used to dream of college as an escape from the monotony and grueling life of school. I envisioned I’d have a relaxed life in the U.S., full of fun and without much work. If only I could go back in time and show my younger self the number of Peet’s coffee cups that I have downed, talk about the consecutive days I have gone without sleep, explain how grinding every day is the norm.
But, I don’t resent coming here and working hard every day. I feel sick, tired and irritated, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way.
All these thoughts flooded into my head because Wednesday was Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. Diwali is a festival that is very close to all our hearts. Family and friends come together, burst firecrackers, eat together and fondly remember the fun moments we have spent together. Boisterous and joyful discussions usually begin with someone from the family recalling cherished family memories. This Diwali, I sat at my desk, exhausted after completing tons of homework and reminiscing alone about the fun times I have had with my family back home. This is my first Diwali away from home, away from family — I miss everything.
But most of all, I miss my parents. Wednesday was also the third-month anniversary of my being away from my parents. I’ve been away from my family for nearly a quarter of a year, which is the longest I have ever spent away from them. I don’t have any siblings, and my relationship with my parents is strong. We have always thought of ourselves as an unbreakable unit. The three of us were the dream team, helping each other through every step of life. Leaving them was a difficult step for me.
I repeatedly find myself sitting at my table, drained of energy, and reflecting back upon my decision to come to UC Berkeley. I wonder if coming here was worth it — living so far away from home, suddenly leaving my parents, leaving the comfortable life I had been in to come and study in the United States. I wonder if I could have achieved my dreams if I studied at a local college in Mumbai. I wonder if a part of me resents coming here.
And again, I think to myself, I would not have it any other way.
Before coming to Berkeley, I was attracted to the idea of being on my own. But the thought of being responsible for my own self, constantly thinking about self-preservation and making important decisions on my own was a daunting prospect.
Yet, I am happy because I do not think any local college would have given me the independence, the exposure, the absolute range of opportunities to grow and learn new things that I have attained here. UC Berkeley is the best platform I have to reach the potential I have envisioned for myself, and I feel that the social and economic benefits of attending the No. 1 public university are what incentivize people to come here. Like myself, 1,340 other international students flew thousands of miles away from their home to study at UC Berkeley because they know that the state-of-the-art facilities, the excellent education, the prestige of the college are much more than what they could get back home. This is the springboard they need, and they are ready to step out of their comfort zone to get launched toward their dreams.
My journey out of my comfortable bubble reminds of this science-fiction novel I read five years ago. The book dealt with a declining human race in the future and how humans are too comfortably settled in their massive steel cities to explore outer space and colonize new planets, the only way to keep the human population alive. Now that I think about it, I understand how the book metaphorically talks about that turning point in all our lives when the only way to grow and advance is to take that one gutsy step, emerge from that sweet, homely cocoon into unchartered waters. I have taken that step.
So, this Diwali, I think about the time I wrote an autobiographical essay in the fourth grade. The essay was about an eagle growing up in a big comfortable nest, which was built high on top of the edge of a big rocky mountain, up until the point its mother pushed it off the nest, down the sheer precipice. It gained flight just before plunging to its death in the deep ravine. That was when I realized my love for writing. And now, nine years later, here I am, the eagle baby in the eagle’s nest. I have been pushed off the cliff and I am falling helplessly. I am trying hard to flap my wings, feeling scared and fatigued. But this is the only way I will learn how to fly.
Abhishek writes the Friday blog on the financial and economic aspects of being an international student. Contact him at [email protected] .