As an international student, I feel torn between my new college and my old home

Between Trinidad and Stanford

Returning home after my first quarter, I felt like my heartfelt wish had finally been granted, except it didn’t feel like the euphoria I expected. Up to a few weeks ago, if anyone had asked me if I was looking forward to returning home, I would enthusiastically respond, “Oh yes. I’ve been looking forward to going home since week five!”

Where’s home? Home is Trinidad and Tobago, my beautiful, Caribbean, twin-island republic – land of sea, sun and smiles.

A glimpse of the scenic coast off Trinidad

A glimpse of the scenic coast off Eastern Trinidad. Beware, though! Rip currents and rough seas make these waters unswimmable

Home…that magical place where family, friends, and fun times awaited me. I closed my eyes and dreamt of familiar faces and places, but when I opened them again, I was back in California, faced with schoolwork and socializing, and keeping up with life in the fast lane at Stanford.

Which isn’t a bad place to be. Stanford felt like another wish come true, and there wasn’t a day that passed when I wasn’t grateful to be there. It was all brand new, and exhilaratingly so. The first few weeks were a whirlwind of new – new classes, new teachers, new people, new environment. But, like all good things, what I dubbed the “honeymoon phase” of my relationship with Stanford ended, and by week five, the shine of these brand new experiences had begun to wear off.

Midterms, research papers, extra curricular duties and the sheer responsibility of having to balance all the novelty became burdensome at times, and there was no-one and nothing familiar to turn to. I was officially ready to come home. All I wanted was to see my family and eat some good, Trini food.

A plate of some popular Trini dishes: hearty soup, macaroni pie and callaloo - a mushy blend of green vegetables

A plate of some popular Trini dishes: hearty soup, macaroni pie and callaloo – a mushy blend of green vegetables. Plus green salad and fried chicken at the side. I missed this so, so much

The next few weeks passed in a blur. When I wasn’t focused on the next assignment or upcoming event, my thoughts turned to my family and my home. The weeks crept by at a painstakingly slow pace, until, finally, thanksgiving week, dead week and finals week were upon us.

And so the countdown began. I was ready. I’d faithfully downloaded the countdown app, and my roommate and I began crossing off the days on our calendars, one by one. We were restless with anticipation, and sometimes, as we studied, one of us would blurt out, “Ah, I can’t wait to go home and see my family!” Then it would take us a few minutes to refocus. The days leading up to my finals found me struggling to study as my headphones blasted Trini soca music, and I daydreamed about the moment I’d touch down in my homeland, and be reunited with everything and everyone I loved. My appreciation for everything Trini had grown, and the wait seemed impossible to bear.

That is, until the wait was over. Yes, I shed a few tears as the plane landed in Trinidad in the wee hours of Sunday morning. But the moment I finally felt the Caribbean sun on my face and hugged my family didn’t melt my heart like I’d expected it to. After the initial excitement of reunion wore off, over the next two days, I was left feeling somewhere between restless and nostalgic, and not far from disappointed.

Reunited and it feels so good!

Reunited and it felt so good! At least on the surface it did. On the inside, I harboured conflicting emotions about being home

Suddenly, removed from Stanford and the life I’d made there, I began to miss campus, and my new friends, and the comfortable routine I’d established. I wondered whether my expectations about returning had been too high. I expected everything to be glittering with familiarity, but now that I glowed with the weight of new memories and experiences in my heart, the sparkling comfort of home dulled.

It seemed like the grass was always greener…on the other side of the ocean. At Stanford, I missed Trinidad. I missed our vibrant culture, our  lively, welcoming people, the diverse Caribbean cuisine and our upbeat soca music. I loved that we could make a joke out of anything. I missed the freedom of self I felt at home. Trinidad had become a utopia in my mind. When I was back home, I missed my Stanford life: the freedom of biking to places, the thrill of the Big Game and every other new tradition, the passion and drive that kept campus alive, the deep connections I’d made, the inside jokes I shared with my roommate…the list goes on.

Ready for the Big Game!

Ready for the Big Game! I loved all the hype, and this game was one of my favourite memories. Can’t wait for next year!

I found myself looking forward again – but this time, visions of the Oval, Palm Drive and the Main Quad fill my mind. This time, however, I didn’t want my daydreams of the future to distract me from the present. I was ready to forget about Stanford for a while and focus on appreciating my home, and my family, and accepting the new feeling that maybe home isn’t quite home anymore. Maybe this is another adjustment in itself – finally coming to terms with the idea of splitting your heart between two places, because yes, Stanford already has a special place in my heart.

Maybe at Stanford, I’ll always miss Trinidad to some extent, and vice versa. Maybe each homecoming changes me, so that returning will never feel the same. Maybe I won’t ever feel 100 percent at home in either place, but whether at Stanford or in Trinidad, I’ll always feel like I belong.

Feeling at home at Stanford as I walk from convocation with new friends

Feeling at home at Stanford as I walk from convocation with new friends. Let the adventure begin! (Photo by Tamer Shabani, ’14)

Stanford University