Where is the Heart?

No Place Like Home

I’m an international student but I’m told a lot that it doesn’t really show. Whatever that really means.

I’ve been in Australia since February 2009. I’ve been living and studying in Australia for about 6 years now, give or take summer and winter holidays.

The most recent summer break I went home and I felt something that seems to have been bubbling for a while now.

That home is starting to feel less like home and more like the holiday.

As great as it is seeing the ol’ fambam, as great as Malaysian food is, I increasingly feel like I no longer belong there.

I’m sure this is something quite a few international students in my position might feel.

For a long time, we feel like foreigners in a strange land ase attempt to deal withthat unspoken pressure to conform and adapt to a new environment. Some may find groups of people with similar experiences and cultures and join them instead, as it is always easy to connect with similar people.

However, some may attempt to bow to the aforementioned pressure. Learn to speak and act as the locals do. Embrace their interests and concerns as your own (I have learned to love Vegemite and the AFL). Maybe even one day make that new land their home.

The issue that I have, however, is that after so much time has been spent growing as a person, I am still tethered to that homeland. By family. By familiarity. By the abstract notion of culture. Yet at the same time, there is a disconnect with certain aspects of where I come from, largely in terms of culture and ideals.

I still feel that connection to my people, my culture and its traditions as much as it is a connection based almost purely in sentimentality. I once exploded at my own (Caucasian Australian) girlfriend for making remarks insensitive to the experiences of international students and immigrants in the heat of argument (Something she thankfully has rectified since).

But that confusion is still there. I have embraced Australia as my home and my inclinations toward what my people deem to be naïve Western liberal ideas. That I will be seen as an individual more than the sum of my skin colour and the blood in my veins. That I will be seen by people around me as more than, as my mother would say, “another strange, foreign brown boy”.

I still want to hold onto that culture that I was born with or the aspects of it I agree with at least.  And if I am forced to go back one day, I want to keep the new parts of myself I gained in Australia without being seeing as a foreigner in my own homeland.

I am constantly being told that there are many parts of “Australian” and Western culture that I will never be able to reconcile with my Malay one. That one day I will have to pick a side in the “clash of civilisations” and it will damage any hopes I have of being settled and happy.

My parents and grandparents always ask me when I’m going to come home. I reply “I don’t know”.

Unlike my last article, this isn’t a how-to of navigating a certain issue. This is me putting my own concerns out in the open because as I have learned through my 23 years on this Earth, there is always someone out there who may feel the same. So, I write this reaching out to whoever feels the same, being an international student or immigrant background or anything in between. If you need to talk this sort of stuff over, get in touch.