When I say I miss being able to travel, I don’t mean exploring new cultures or backpacking through cities. I mean I miss knowing that if my family needed me or I needed them, either of us would hop on a plane, no questions asked, and be there in a heartbeat. It’s no easy feat going to and from home these days. Each journey is almost 30 hours of paranoia, requiring constant sanitizing, continuous mask-wearing and cutting off and throwing away protective clothing at every destination. And then, of course, there is the collective month and a half of hard quarantine I will have completed in the 12 months alone.
Although I kept it to myself for the most part, I had a really rough semester last fall, and it took a massive toll on my mental health. By December I was completely mentally and emotionally drained, feeling more hopeless and devoid of positivity than ever. I needed to go home. Deciding to prepone my flight and take my online finals with insane time differences in a government-prescribed quarantine room was one of the tougher choices I have made. But the pressure on my sanity was too much, and it was a choice I don’t regret making one bit.
Being home this past month was a breath of fresh air. Not only literally, since life in Singapore resembled some sense of normalcy amid this crisis, but metaphorically as well. For the past four weeks, being surrounded by family and friends gave me the kind of emotional safety I so desperately needed.
Anyone who knows me knows that my family — both given and chosen — is my ultimate bragging point and top priority. We are incredibly close; my third cousins are like my siblings. I can go to them with absolutely anything. Existing in this bubble of unconditional love meant that I could let my guard down completely and be unfiltered and vulnerable without any fear whatsoever of getting hurt. I knew I was protected every minute of every day.
So this time, going to the airport was a tumultuous trip. The day of departure, I invited my cousins, aunts, uncle and best friend over for a bagel brunch to say goodbye. Just as they were arriving, I burst into tears in the kitchen, feeling completely helpless. I was extremely tempted to log in to my Etihad account and delay my flight further, although I had already pushed it back a week. I was immediately terrified of being stuck in a situation where I felt lonely and unnerved with no way to get home or for any member of my safety net to get to me. If the borders suddenly closed or flights became unavailable, I would be left to fend for myself. Again.
These feelings were exacerbated by the looming date of May 27. Graduation is soon upon us, and I have absolutely no idea what I want to do with my life. Personally, the fact that the “real world” is coming toward me like a train is just now hitting me. I feel as if I’ve been tied to the tracks.
So it is safe to say that there were many things contributing to my anxiety about leaving Singapore this time. But regardless, I am back in Baltimore and have made it through the first day of classes completely unscathed and, actually, with a pretty big smile on my face. I think that I got so caught up in the momentary anxiety and stress of thinking about how I survived last semester that I forgot one really important thing: I survived last semester.
It wasn’t easy, and I owe a great deal to my incredible friends and even better flatmate, but I actually have some really fond memories of fall 2020. Sure, the lows were really low, but there were so many highs I didn’t pay enough attention to, from walks through crunchy fall leaves to piping hot cocoa on the terrace to launching a full double issue of Marque Magazine in the middle of a global pandemic. The most significant one, however, was how unbelievably comfortable and happy I became within myself.
Driving into Baltimore City yesterday, I realized that the feeling of protection and safety I felt when I was at home hadn’t left yet. For a little while I thought it was because the reality of being so far away hadn’t sunk in yet (and maybe it hasn’t), but now I think that I’ve somehow managed to bring it with me. I realized that I wasn’t giving myself enough credit about what exactly it was that I needed. I didn’t need my support system to be physically around me all the time; I just needed that month of rest and reassurance to recharge my batteries.
This semester will be difficult and sometimes tough for all of us, so please check in with your friends and in particular with your international student friends. This isn’t an easy time to be away from home, and even a little message goes a long way.
Saniya Ramchandani is a senior studying Physics from Singapore. Her column is a reflective narrative that chronicles her experiences navigating various aspects of college life.