Why the U.S.? – Lillian Lau – (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ’20)

“Home feels different now. It is…smaller, confined. I grew up a sheltered millennial child, and studying in the US was my first experience of extended separation from everything comfortable. No, it wasn’t all golden and gleaming – I had my fair share of bouts of homesickness and loneliness, strange sensations of being a balloon, bobbing about in the isolation of space. But it was also a time of self-discovery. In the loneliness, I reached out and found a new family. My balloon was burst open, and like fluid particles intermingling in a mixture, and all of a sudden I found myself swirling amidst new places, new faces – new opportunities. 

Familiarity has a different meaning now. It no longer solely means cold marble floors on a sweltering afternoon, or the sweet-salty taste of Mum’s ABC soup for dinner. Familiarity has been colored by my American college experience – by dollar-coffee refills during finals week, 99-cent blueberries at Aldi’s, and haphazardly put-together potlucks of Dunkin Donuts and homemade laksa Sarawak. Familiarity is now being unafraid of wearing my honest opinion on my sleeve, of casually approaching professors to ask for help, to striking up random conversations with the cashier who thought I was a freshman in high school. 

When I return home, I am hungry. Not merely for my fill of banana leaf rice and teh ais – but more more. There’s a place in me that has been defined by my time in the US, and sometimes I no longer know who I was before August 2016. When the time comes for me to leave and return home, some serious re-definition of life will be in order. I guess I will only be ready for it when the time comes. Till then, who knows?”