“So where is your hometown?”
This is the most common question people ask me. While it sounds like a simple question for most people, my response can be lengthy. Even though I was born in Indonesia, I’ve always seen Singapore as my home. The 16 years spent growing up in the red dot island (aside from travelling to 15 other countries and more than 50 cities) somehow turned me into a third culture kid. This is probably why I’m always quick in adapting to the local culture.
Just two weeks ago, I went to Mary’s Place Outreach to work on a photo essay for class. During my time there I met student volunteers from the Malaysian Student Association at RIT. It began as a simple interview with two students, inquiring about their involvement in volunteer work. When I started speaking in Malay, it turned into a friendly networking session with the rest of the Malaysian students.
One of the interesting things I found from our conversation was how we overcome misunderstandings from our faraway hometown.
“There’s a common perception that Asian students who study abroad will abandon their heritage just because we live in a liberal country,” Sofiah Nor Wirah, 22, a third year molecular bioscience and biotechnology student at RIT, said.
Having been thrust into various cultures, the ensuing years brought a roller coaster of emotions and events. While I’ve lost touch with the festivities back at home, the past two years of living in the United States encouraged me to embrace new cultures from various communities. And the new opportunities and new friendships that I gained over the last 18 months have taught me to be more open-minded and compassionate. For instance, people here still make an effort to give back to their community despite the economic downturn. This is something that’s rarely seen back at home, and it serves as an important reminder that life is more than having a successful career and marriage.
Maizatul Mahmud, 23, a fourth year molecular bioscience and biotechnology major, highlighted the amorphous nature of education.
“People need to understand that education is not just confined within the classrooms, but [it] also teaches you to be more independent,” Mahmud said. “Meeting new people also opened up my mind that life over here isn’t as simple as it seems.”
I can relate to Nor Wirah and Mahmud’s accounts because I’ve lost quite a number of friends back at home over this issue. But do I feel any regrets? Nope. I know that I still have a long way to go in life and I’m nowhere ready to give up on exploring the world outside my own home, or comfort zone.