The first week at Vassar was more jam-packed than I ever could have imagined. Truthfully, I think I am deeply thankful for that. With all those activities, all the scheduled events occupying my mind, there was no room for nostalgia. During the day, I was always looking at my phone, not for text messages from my parents, but for the timing of orientation events. All the while, I tried to hide my jet lag in order to talk to as many people and make as many friends as possible. When the night came, I had to deal with a huge mess of unpacked clothes in my room. On my first night, instead of lying on my bed, crying, calling my mom and asking her why she would allow me to leave home to be here all alone by myself, I slept like a log due to exhaustion.
In my mind, an angel’s voice warmly assured me that it was sensible for me not to think about home that much, since I already had enough challenges to overcome. Coming to the United States was the first time that I was actually on my own, far away from my family. It was my first time in the wild. My survival instinct prevented me from allowing my homesickness to get in the way of adjusting to this new environment.
To be honest, adapting to life at Vassar was not as hard as I had expected. I found a little Vietnamese community in which I can always talk with in Vietnamese, so that I need never be afraid of neglecting my mother tongue. Moreover, the weather in Poughkeepsie during the first week surreally resembled the weather in Vietnam. Although I knew that it was partially due to the effect of climate change, I was somewhat guiltily grateful for it. It really helped me become accustomed to this town.
However, deep down in my mind, a devil kept whispering to me that, by not missing home, I was relinquishing my heritage: my Vietnamese roots. It goes without saying that cultivating one’s personal identity has always been an important aspect of Vassar culture. That being said, I felt like I was losing parts of my identity here. I didn’t notice that the pressure of adapting to a new culture was actually taking a heavy toll on me.
During all those discussions about who we are, whether with my student fellow group or in the chapel, I was inadvertently afraid to speak up. I am an international student. I am one of the minorities here in the United States. I was supposed to be the one who had the most to tell about my identity and cultural heritage. Inexplicable as it was, I was at a loss for words during those discussions. I was at a loss for my personal and cultural identity.
Looking back at those first few weeks, I recognize that this was all part of my mental defense mechanism. While I was still in Vietnam, my friends told me that I was not at all sensitive or emotionally available. Truth be told, I felt the same way about myself. I dealt with my unpleasant feelings by ignoring them, until I could not remember their existence.
Try as I might, I have never been able to say “I love you” to my parents, even when I was saying my goodbyes to them at the airport. Thus, I told myself to abandon the feeling of homesickness because I knew that I would not be strong enough to deal with my emotions alone—that I would break down.
As the semester progressed, I had more and more time by myself. Nevertheless, I kept avoiding my emotions. I couldn’t maintain that for long. Recently, I have immersed myself back in Vietnamese indie music. It is an escape for me from all of the rap music present in America. More importantly, listening to that Vietnamese music brings me home. Sitting in my single-but-we-put-a-bunk-bed-here-so-now-it-becomes-a-double dorm room with my earphones on, I enter an audiotopia. Suddenly, I am at my desk in my cozy room back home doing homework while listening to my favorite music. All these familiarities surround me.
I have found myself a balance. Now, I don’t have to worry that my yearning for home will interfere with my new life. I just need to put in my earphones, and I am at home. My journey to discover my own identity continues—but for now, I am glad that I am not avoiding homesickness anymore, that I still miss my family and continue to cherish my Vietnamese heritage.