Welcome to part 2 of “Immigrant child guilt”. Check out part 1 if you haven’t already.
Today I am going to talk about the time I moved abroad and how my empathy grew even more towards my parents.
So as I have mentioned before I went abroad twice for my study. I am mainly going to talk about the first time I went abroad, which is when I went to do my internship in Paris.
I want to make a disclaimer first: I had the time of my life in Paris. In this post, I just want to explain the hard parts that I experienced while being abroad.
When I arrived in Paris I had a culture shock. I saw things that I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect a country that is not even that far from the Netherlands to be so different. I always heard nice things about Paris. Everything was nice, beautiful, and perfect. Of course, I knew that there were neighborhoods you “shouldn’t go to” but we all have those right? It wasn’t actually my first time in Paris. I had been there before with my high school, just for 24 hours. And everything looked nice and perfect. But when it was time for me to live there things turned out to be different. When I entered Paris and I was on my way to my apartment I had seen so much ugliness already. I saw poverty in Paris that I had never heard about. Never would I thought that I would see kids walking between the cars and begging for money. I saw so many people sleeping outside. I saw so many people that lost one of their legs. There were a lot of immigrants selling food that they barbequed close to a train station. I didn’t feel comfortable having all those people asking me for money or trying to sell me stuff. The first thing I thought, when I arrived in Paris was, “what did I do? I want to go back home. I don’t want to do this anymore”.
The thing is I had a choice. I could book a ticket and go back home, which I didn’t. It wouldn’t be a smart move, because I wouldn’t be able to graduate etc. But I did have the choice, and I’m sure my life still would have turned out ok for me if I made the choice to quit and go back home. But as an immigrant, it is more complicated. I hope my parents didn’t have the same feeling I had when I arrived. I hope they had a better experience. You know, it’s kind of scary to have to stay in a place you don’t feel comfortable.
This experience was a big step for me. I was scared that my family would worry about me, and that they would be scared that I wouldn’t be alright. I was the first child to do something like this. So I felt the pressure to let them know that I was fine. I even came home 3 times during my abroad period. Of course, I just wanted to see them, but I also wanted to show them that I was fine, that I was eating well, and not sick or anything.
In the first weeks, I was a little bit scared to do things. I was scared that I would get lost by myself in a country that I don’t know. In the first two weeks, I was with a friend who started her internship around the same time as I did, and she didn’t live that far from me, so we hung out together a lot. But she had to go back to The Netherlands to get some papers signed. So after that, I was by myself. Back home I was doing so many things. I went to college, played basketball, went to the gym, and hung out with friends. All I had at that moment was my internship. I really had to be brave and go out by myself. So I started looking for a gym, which I couldn’t find. Then I looked for another address which I ended up finding. I felt like I had to start from scratch and build a whole new life for myself. And I had to do it all by myself. Daily things like using public transport and going to the grocery store were so different than I was used to. I felt really uncomfortable. It really made me sad that doing those basic daily things was already hard for me. So during this period, I was thinking “wow, is this what it felt like for my parents”.
It was so weird for me to not be living with my family. Not only was I not living with them, but I was also in another country. I don’t how to explain this, but it felt like my family was nothing but a thought, just a memory. There were not with me anymore. We were not in the same house. When I woke up in the morning, they were not there.
I come from a family of 5. And we don’t have family in this country. I only left 4 people. My parents had a lot of siblings. They were close with their grandparents, aunts, uncles cousins, etc. If it was hard for me to leave 4 people, how hard must it have been for them to leave so many people behind?
When I lived in Paris, every morning I would wake up so confused. When I was dreaming, I was dreaming that I was home. So when I woke up, I expected to be home. So my first thought, when I woke up, was “where am I?”. It is the worst feeling ever to not know where you are when you wake up. So I was thinking “did my parents go through this?”. Imagine dreaming that you are home having fun with your family and then waking up and realizing that you are by yourself in another country and you are not going to see them for a while. So I was wondering “when my parents are dreaming, do they dream that they are in Africa?”.
When I was abroad, I was really on my own. I couldn’t call home and ask them to help me with things because things are different in other countries. It was just me and God, honestly. All I could do was hope and pray that everything would turn out alright. Here in the Netherlands, I always ask my family or friends if I don’t know how to do something. But abroad it wasn’t the case. I had to just figure it out.
It is really hard to leave your country and to have to start your life all over again. Having to figure out how everything works. Having to communicate in another language. Feeling uncomfortable. Missing home.
I just went from a European country to a European Country. My parents went from an African country to a European country. I can’t imagine how big the culture shock was for them.
But you know what, this experience made me so strong. I ended up building that life for myself in Paris. I started working out at the gym. I even joined a basketball team. I ate at so many different places. I even went to parties at the club. I became so independent. I became more social and wasn’t scared to ask for help. I ended up having the time of my life. When I had to come back home, my heart was in pieces. I build this whole life for myself and I had to leave it all behind and that was so painful. But I was proud of myself to know that I was able to build a life for myself in a whole other country. So the second time I went abroad, I wasn’t scared anymore. I believed in myself. I also was even more proud of my parents. They did it. They built a whole life for us in a country without speaking the language. They overcame all the boundaries.
After all the traveling I had to do for my study, it was time to go home. You know how everyone is saying “home is where the heart is”. When I came back home I felt it deeply in my heart, like I never felt it before. A home is not just four walls. It’s a feeling. For me, a home is a place that I share with my loved ones. Home is where I feel safe, where my heart is at ease. Home is where I can trust the people I live with, where I can be myself. It’s my family that makes my house feel like a home. All we have is each other, but at the same time, that’s everything to me. That feeling that I have at home, is the best feeling I ever had.
I’m scared that I won’t feel that feeling anymore once I move out. I’m scared that my parents won’t have that feeling anymore once all their kids move out. They will be back to where it all started in 1994 when they came to this country. Just the 2 of them..
This is all I have for today. Thank you for your precious time and until next time!
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