By SheyWei Soo
Artwork by Jessica Johsnon
It is a lovely Sunday morning as the sun shines bright. I can hear voices and laughter. I look up and see birds singing. As I walk down this local street in a place a long way away from my own home and country, a group of children chase each other around the front garden of their home. I can hear them laughing, playing and screaming. Inside, their parents watch over them, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. I smile at the little kids. Everything seems so perfect to me this Sunday morning as I look at this idyllic family scene.
As I move along the road, I hear an adult say, ‘Excuse me.’ Upon hearing this, I step back to let a man and his wife and family pass. I stop suddenly as I remember how I used to perform an exercise routine with my family back home every Sunday morning. Suddenly I find myself homesick, wishing I could be with my own family.
Homesickness is widespread in my mind. This is the first time I’ve been away from family, in Australia. At first, I lived in fear of racism and of being bullied by others. I had heard stories from my friends studying in Melbourne of their bad experiences and through them I have seen the impact of being bullied.
One of my friends was bullied when he was catching a train to university in 2009. That was really a horrible experience for him. When my family and I received this news, we panicked and were concerned about his situation. He was just sitting there, listening to his music and reading his book. All of a sudden, a few local guys came up to him and started hitting him. He was injured badly. What he described to me has been floating in my mind ever since. The scars on his face and body have kept reminding me how he has been treated in Melbourne.
I still remember when I first reached Adelaide, how all the people are very friendly and helpful, though. They were not as racist as I thought they would be. So, I started a new chapter of my life.
Adelaide was so different compared to my home country. Everything seemed so systematic and clean. The public transport systems were very punctual and convenient. I took buses to the city and the bus drivers were warm hearted. ‘Hi, how’s your day?’ they would greet me. I was shocked and surprised because back in Malaysia, the bus drivers were not polite and they did not greet the passengers. The other thing I realised was that people would thank the bus driver before they got off the bus. Soon, I even started to apply this culture into my daily life.
On the other hand, I felt the mild cold wind even in summer. I became surprised with the weather here, as I thought summer would be hot and stuffy. I could not imagine how I was going to survive the winter because in Malaysia the summer season lasts the whole year. To make things worse, my first accommodation did not provide a heater, air conditioner, or fan.
I was fine with the summer heat, but not the cold weather in winter. Wintertime was wet, cool and windy. For the first few days of it, I enjoyed myself very much because back in Malaysia we do not experience winter. However, I eventually could not stand the cold weather any longer because my room wasn’t supplied with a heater. I had to wear four layers of thick clothes, long-john pants, and winter socks in order for me to have a good night’s sleep.
Previously, I always thought that studying abroad would help me gain great experience because that was how I would get the opportunity to meet new people, experience new cultures, languages, different mindsets and foods, etcetera. Even now, everything is still very new for me and experiencing these new lifestyles makes me homesick.
English was not my first language. So, I needed time to get used to the Australian accent. Especially during lectures or tutorial classes, as the lecturers had different teaching styles compared to in Malaysia. I did face some language difficulties while communicating with people. Australians often spoke very fast and used words that I wasn’t familiar with, such as, ‘doona’ which I found out meant blanket.
Even now, it is hard for me to mix around and be sociable with local students. Hence, I usually hang out with my Malaysian friends. My main concern is that I can’t mix very well with local students due to our different cultures and different interests. But honestly, language is the main barrier between us.
I am too used to speaking Mandarin as my first language. I feel so happy and relieved after using ‘Skype’ with my family and friends. I contact my family regularly because they always give me support and encourage me to do well in my studies. I usually contact them through Skype as it is fun to watch them on my computer screen as we chat and the feeling of seeing all of them on my screen is amazing; it’s as though as they are nearby.
‘You must take very good care of yourself,’ my mum told me before I left. This has been in my mind for eight months. Australia is a beautiful country where there are many friendly people. But right now, I am so far, far away from my home. I have never had this kind of feeling before.
Great moments like going hiking with my parents on Sunday morning and having dinner together with them keep being recalled in my mind. Here comes the homesickness again—I want to go home and if I can go back, even if only for a while, it will make me very happy. I want to be close to my family and buddies so badly.
Now, I have to accept the fact that I will be experiencing homesickness during my journey studying abroad. The reason homesickness occurs in me is because I am out of my comfort zone. I received advice from my sister: ‘You should enjoy your time to the fullest because the opportunity of studying abroad is very rare and you should savour the moment.’ Therefore, I will try my best to deal with my homesickness. I do not want to disappoint my family and friends who give me their full support.