When I first moved to Canada, I was fine.

The inevitable homesickness which often consumes first-year students idly passed me by. Perhaps it was my signature naïveté; perhaps it was my frustration with the state of things back home. Either way, something sustained my denial, and I managed to ignore the aching emptiness, hastily shoving it into a corner at the back of my mind.

 Pre-pandemic, I kept myself busy—deliberately occupying myself to prevent a single crack in the facade. Whenever I was asked if I missed Mumbai, India, if I missed my family, or if I liked it here, I would shrug, responding with a noncommittal sigh and a “Well…”

I mean, sure, I missed home, but I was perfectly happy in Vancouver, right? 

I was perfectly happy with the once-every-year-or-so visits to my grandparents, perfectly happy with the overbearing politeness, the covert racism, the oft-uninspiring food, people, and weather.

Don’t get me wrong—I really convinced myself that I was perfectly happy away from home. I was grateful for the opportunities I was given, excited to explore uncharted territory, to live alone, unencumbered by the judgement of my community.

Like I said, I was fine. Or so it seemed.

With the onset of COVID-19, the flight bans, and the increasing turmoil in India, home became more out of reach than ever before. I couldn’t visit my family due to finances and health risks, or consider spending an indefinite amount of time in Mumbai, and online classes would have been even more challenging in our small flat with unpredictable Internet connectivity.

So, I chose to remain in Canada. And with time, that aching emptiness that I had once so painstakingly tucked away, became impossible to ignore.

As life came to a halt and home slipped further away, I found myself growing painfully aware of my alien surroundings. Loneliness crept in, despite support and community being well within reach, because whatever it was, it wasn’t home. 

Home was all I could think about, wherever I went. I had never felt more isolated, and it was in the midst of the pandemic that the extent of my upheaval truly set in.

Of course I missed my family, my city, my culture, but that wasn’t quite it.

What I longed for, more than anything, was that feeling of being rooted—of really knowing a place and its people, inside and out. This is the kind of familiarity and confidence that comes with having grown up in that environment. 

What I missed was being able to reminisce with those around me, to joke about the everyday peculiarities of this shared space, to have my feet planted firmly in the ground I walked. 

It was as if I had been robbed of this feeling entirely—my roots had been severed the moment I left India, and even four years in, Canada and I were merely polite acquaintances.

So, in the stillness of the pandemic, I grieved the loss of home.

I don’t know when, or even if that grief will move quietly back into its designated corner. As I continue to edge further away from home, I am truly grateful for my fellow international students—with their unique, complex identities, warmth, and resilience.

Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone in my loneliness.

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About the author:Anuja is an international student at the University of British Columbia, with a concentration in mental health and interpersonal development. When she isn’t having an existential crisis, you may find her dancing, taking pictures of her cat or yelling at unclejis. When she is having an existential crisis, you’ll probably find her in a window seat on the 99, listening to Mohammed Rafi and pretending she’s in a movie.

About the author

Anuja Bhatt/@bhattcheeks_

Anuja is an international student at the University of British Columbia, with a concentration in mental health and interpersonal development. When she isn’t having an existential crisis, you may find her dancing, taking pictures of her cat or yelling at unclejis. When she is having an existential crisis, you’ll probably find her in a window seat on the 99, listening to Mohammed Rafi and pretending she’s in a movie.

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