By Arathi Devandran @miffalicious & online at miffalicious.com
After moving for the sixth time in a span of two and a half months, I’ve finally gotten settled, and figured this was the best time to speak about how it is to be a nomadic young adult in this time and age. Most parents wouldn’t be particularly happy with how often their daughter tends to travel, but I’m blessed with two people who’ve given me free reign to explore what this world has to offer, and have always supported me in my ventures. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for the past four years now, and this sense of displacement is something that I deal with all too frequently.
As an international student from Singapore, studying in the UK, I took a huge leap of faith (in myself, and in my capabilities) to uproot myself from everything that I’ve known and had, away from a home that I’d gotten too comfortable in, to come to a country that functioned with different values, customs, a time zone, and weather patterns. It was a grand adventure, but as all adventures go, there were many roadblocks to be faced as well.
Uprooting oneself can be done at a whim, but requires a lot of mental strength and a strong understanding of oneself to deal with the plethora of differences that await with such a change. I hadn’t realised how much I had relied on the mere physical presence of my family, until I was placed in a situation where I had to be alone more often than not. As an only child, I’d thought I’d gotten used to this idea of being alone, but I was clearly proven wrong. The personal space that I found myself in during my early days further questioned my concept of home, and where I truly belonged.
Was home where my parents were, where I’d grown up for most of my life? Was home the place where I was getting my first degree, where I was learning more about life, and people than I ever had back in Singapore? Or was home somewhere deep inside of me, in the surety of my self? I started to travel more; after all I was finally in Europe and I’d probably never have access to such cheap flights to get around the continent once I returned to Singapore.
The more I traveled, the more disconnected I began to feel. Each country that I visited had something beautiful about it that I loved, it made me feel that that was an ideal characteristic of “home”. But these ideal characteristics were sparse and distributed over different continents. Where did I truly belong? While I was battling with these questions of where my sense of belonging truly lay, I continued communicating with my parents.
The best thing about this technology driven era that we live in lies in the fact that the internet and other telecommunicative means allow us to communicate over distances that would have been unimaginable 50 years ago. This constant communication with parents served to keep me grounded no matter how lost I got. Although it wasn’t the same as having my family around me constantly, it helped that they were always around, in some way or another, for me to have a sense of rootedness.
I may not have had a physical space that I thought of as a home, but I did have the concept of home entrenched within me. I’m still dealing with displacement issues. I’m afraid I’ll always be dealing with displacement issues, because when you’ve been on the move for a long time, it becomes easier to settle down in a place without being comfortable; it becomes easier to adapt. That doesn’t necessarily mean that one is able to create many homes, it just means that the concept of home becomes slowly diluted.
The only constant throughout this metamorphosis has been my family, and I’m sure I’m not the only nomadic student who’d say that. Their (in)sanity has helped me keep my wits about myself, and I’d take that as a first step in dealing with these issues of displacement. Some tips for anyone who might be thinking of sending their children abroad:
1. Remind your child he or she has a home.
My parents always remind me that they have a home for me. It might just the physical construct of a house, and their presence, but that provides an essence of returning to some place. Whether that’s home, or more of a home-base, remains to be seen, but that helps me deal with my confusion.
2. Travel wide.
Encourage traveling as it gives you greater perspective of what you like, and don’t like about a place. This could work both ways; it could either provide you with a list of qualities you might possibly find in your ‘ideal home’ if such a place exists, or it could make your quest to find a place of belonging that much harder. Nevertheless, traveling helps to broaden the mind, and soften the heart – two very valuable things.
I find speaking about this issue of displacement to my family, and friends who feel the same, helps me deal with
the restlessness better. When speaking with friends who feel the same, there’s a reassurance that I’m not the only one, that this is something that people with experiences similar to mine go through.
Reassurance can go a long way to stemming confusion and restless.