As an international student from Vietnam, transitioning to college involves adjusting to the liminal spaces which I temporally, spatially, and spiritually inhabit. The fact that Hanoi is 12 hours ahead of Philly means that I am constantly trying to vicariously clutch at the afterglow of life at “home,” knowing that most the fun things there happen while I’m asleep in Riepe.
“Home” and “here” seem to be two parallel planes that never intersect. Relationships stretch thinly across continents; my family is oblivious to thousands of meaningful moments in my life. It saddens me sometimes, and I think it saddens them too, that we can never fully negate the in-between of longing. There is an unspoken resentment at not “being there” for each other long and often enough, at not being able to provide timely support, at maturing or aging without each other’s realization.
Here at Penn, I watch myself gradually transforming into my adult self. But I don’t know how Facetime and Skype calls can encapsulate the experience. I have stopped telling my family about Fling weekend or what I learned in Linguistics. I worry that the details of my daily life would be too embarrassing or too banal or just second-hand news that wouldn’t register any meaning, no matter how profound I find them. Instead, I talk instead about the constant and the immutable. Recipes for traditional Vietnamese dishes. The friends from high school whom we all know. My mom says that since I left, she’s often had vivid dreams about my childhood. Our conversations revolve around the past and nostalgic reminiscences: we cling to the static certainty of the life we spent together.
I’m scared of what this sense of detachment signifies. Is my love for my family waning? Is this just a dissipation of their presence in my life, and mine in theirs? have always believed that familial love is the greatest and most unconditional love of all. I dread the prospect that one day, physical distance would deepen into emotional distance, inexorably driving us apart as the space we occupy in each other’s heart becomes trivial and even redundant. Last week, I learned that a friend of mine had passed away in an accident in Budapest. She, like me, also studied abroad, albeit in Europe, and took a trip to Hungary before returning to Vietnam for summer break. She never made it home. Days after I heard the news, I kept thinking about loss. Lost time. Lost opportunities. Lost good-byes. What would fill in the gaping chasm left by the year she spent away from her family and the many years beyond which would never come to pass?
As I learn to navigate college and adulthood, I also learn to navigate the depths of long-distance relationships and the possible discomfort of loving differently. I still believe that familial love is the greatest love of all, but the distance between us–and the relentless passage of time– force us to reconsider the meanings of our relationship. We step outside of each other’s lives– not to grow apart, but to realize how much we value our own autonomy. We see how much we still fervently need each other.