Both my parents did their undergraduate degrees in colleges away from home and lived in hostels. As a result, I grew up on a constant dose of stories about college and hostel shenanigans – burning down curtains trying to make tea on a heater (Yes, my mother actually did that), playing late night cricket in corridors and a whole host of other crazy, fun things. Living in a hostel seemed like the most fun experience that anyone could have and my parents were very keen for me to have that, almost like a rite of passage. So much so that when there was talk of moving abroad for a brief period while I was in school in New Delhi, I told my parents with great conviction that I would stay back in the school hostel because I refused to be parted from my friends and my beloved school. No matter how hard my parents tried to talk 12-year old me out of this ridiculous idea, I wouldn’t budge. Thankfully, the plan got shelved at the last minute and I continued to live at home like a regular kid. (I say thankfully because adult me is convinced it would have been the worst possible thing for me.)
When the time came for me to finally go to college, the universe conspired to send me to the country’s top law school, across the country. The childhood dream of living in a hostel was finally about to come true and for no less than 5 whole years. Despite the looooong preparation period that I believed I had gone through for this phase of my life, it was HARD. Nothing had prepared me for being away from every thing, place and person I had ever known and held dear in my life. Adjusting to a new environment, new friends, new ways took more time and effort than anticipated but law school soon became much more than just a college. It was another home and then some. I made lifelong friends, learnt to fend for myself and found new favourite hangout spots! And despite how different it felt at the time, somewhere deep down I knew that it was still another part of my country, where things were called by similar names, people functioned in similar ways and ‘real’ home was a short flight away.
So when in 2015, I was given the opportunity to study abroad at Oxford, for two years of post graduation, I felt myself experiencing familiar trepidation at moving my entire life. And yet, it was very different in another sense because this time it felt more real.
Another country, another culture and people from all across the world was going to be a whole different ball game. In retrospect, I thank my stars because I got really, really lucky. I managed to make friends who made Oxford feel homely very quickly. Of course there was a constant sense of missing. I missed everyone and everything – from my parents and family to my friends in different parts of India, from the crisp, dry heat of Delhi summers to the deluge of Indian monsoons, from home cooked food to my bed! But most of all, I missed the things that I hadn’t ever held dear or paid attention to. The colours, the smells, the noises. I had never thought I’d feel this way, but Oxford felt too sanitized, too pretty and too dreamy (as a friend said to me, “You basically live in Hogwarts”). And this was a difficult sentiment to explain, which made it harder to adjust. But there were also things that made it easier. A great set of friends, an all-consuming course and the relatively easy availability of familiar things helped a great deal. As did the amazing peer support system that I found in my college and among others on the same scholarship.
When I came back home for this summer, I was repeatedly asked how my year had been. And at this point, I think I can confidently say that it’s been one of the best years of my life so far. So far, I had been privileged enough to never have to work this hard – not just academically, but also in my daily life. This year, I cooked for myself, did my laundry, fixed my own things and adult-ed (almost) constantly. And yet, I strangely enjoyed it. I don’t know what the upcoming year will be like but I do know that being able to share this experience with others in a similar position made it so much more fun. As all seven of us come together on this blog to share our experiences, we hope that they will resonate with you too and make it just a teeny, tiny bit easier to deal with your own challenges. Happy reading!