I left home when I was sixteen, because I was offered an amazing opportunity to go and study in Hong Kong with people from 80 different nationalities. Sounds crazy, and somehow, it was the best type of crazy. Living with people from so many different places, and with such diverse beliefs gave me firsthand insight into a great amount of cultures and traditions. By the time I finished my first year in Li Po Chun United World College (LPCUWC), I had an image embedded in my head for each country, religion, or sexuality.
The thing about having a face popping in your mind whenever you hear a country’s name is that there are good things and bad things tied to it. The good thing is that you feel that you somehow belong there. Because one of my close friends was Mexican, I felt this bond with Mexican culture. I had celebrated her holidays and chanted her anthems; I had heard so much about it that it became personal to me.
The bad thing is that whenever you read the news, have debates, or watch TV, and something about one of your friend’s country comes up, it also becomes personal. When your friends are all over the world, there is always a war in someone’s country, and sometimes some of your best friends’ countries are fighting each other. It’s like two parts of your identity, two pieces of your heart are fighting each other, and you can’t win that game.
I chose the type of life I wanted when I was 15, and made the decision to leave home to go discover the world. I chose a lifestyle that allowed me to meet new people; different people. I chose a lifestyle that had me sitting through 20-hour flights and made airports seem cozy. I chose that lifestyle, and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world, yet, it comes with a much higher price tag than people would expect.
Many people have told me multiple times how much they admire my lifestyle. They mentioned how lucky I was to meet so many people from so many different places and travel so much, and truth be told, I am unbelievably lucky to be able to travel as much as I do and have friends all over the world, yet, that means that my heart is scattered everywhere.
With these people I had shared laughter and tears, they had seen me happy and sad, healthy and sick, going to balls and crawling out of bed. They’ve seen a whole picture of what I really am. These amazing people that I had gotten to know and deeply love, are no longer part of my present life. That was by far one of the most painful realizations that I’ve had so far.
When it was time to leave my boarding school in Hong Kong, it left the seventeen-year old me heartbroken, and with no strength left to meet new people. I had put so much time and effort into getting to know these people, opening up to them, being loved and loving them, that I did not know how to do it again. Truth is, I had done it once before, so I could do it one more time. I had to leave my family, my childhood friends, and everything that I knew behind to start my crazy adventure in Hong Kong and I had loved it, yet somehow, I was tired of doing it.
This lifestyle that I chose, scatters my heart all over the planet. My best friends live in four different continents, and my family in a fifth one. The chances for me to be able to have all the people that I love in one single place are practically impossible.
When I started my NYUSH adventure I was emotionally tired of getting to know new people, and somehow feared opening up and starting the friendship processes all over again, but that came naturally to me, as if my instincts were guiding me. I have made life lasting friendships here, too, and almost halfway through it, I can’t stop myself from thinking about the day we have to depart, not for study away, but to the next steps in our lives. This time around, I am more serene. I love these people and they love me back, and that makes them a part of me.
It doesn’t get any easier to say goodbye, but the love you have for your friends, and vice versa, doesn’t fade away. Every time I see one of my friends that lives far, far away, I get a piece of home. We hug and kiss, we sit around having coffee, and talk for hours like the months or years that separated us never happened. We tell each other about our adventures, our heartbreaks and joys, and we laugh and cry. Those moments are priceless, they’re a precious time machine that reminds me that those people will always be part of my life — they might no longer be part of my daily life — but I carry them in my thoughts, my actions, and my dreams. These people will come to my graduation and wedding, they will get to know my kids, and in twenty or thirty years from now, we’ll still have a cup of coffee in some terrace around the world.
Here’s the secret to it: you can’t live in the past with the people that you left behind. To be happy, one has to live in the present and understand that some people belong to a certain time frame in our lives. Keeping in contact is great, and I love hearing about their new lives, but spending four hours Skyping every day is living in a sad illusion of the past. The people that I left at home, and the ones that I met through my adventures, will have a long-lasting impact on me, on the person that I am now, and on the person that I aspire to become. Ultimately, I am made of my dreams and all of these people’s dreams; I am made of the love that they provide for me, the laughter that we shared, and the late night conversations that we had. I am made of all of the precious moments that I have shared with each one of them.
This article was written by Ilham Farah. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Nicole Chan