An Open Letter to My Cousin Who Moved Abroad

An Open Letter to My Cousin Who Moved Abroad
Photo by Raychan / Unsplash

This is an open letter to my cousin who just left Nepal to move to her dream country for her higher education. It has been a couple of weeks since her big move. So, here are my two cents for her.  

Dear N,

Congratulations! I know it has been your dream to go abroad to pursue your further education and you did it. I am so proud of you! Now that you have moved, I know you have been having a lot of big feelings and that’s totally normal. Ask anyone who has left home and is living abroad, it’s a common story for all of us. But it gets better. You are just at the starting point and there is a long way to go from here. I told you a lot of things over the phone before your flight, but you may not have paid attention to those things then. So, I thought I was going to write this for you and others just like you who have recently moved out of the country or are planning to do so in the near future. From someone who has left home and started just like you, I might have something to share that may help you with some perspectives as you embark on this journey. Please read it carefully.

Time is Everything

You moved to a different country from the comfort of your home and your family less than a month ago. You are just getting started. The beginning is always difficult. To be somewhere so far away from family, especially at such a young age, is a challenge. And for someone who has never left family until now, moving to an entirely different city, country, and continent is not a small thing. You are very brave! You have been getting the hint of this already, but the experience of homesickness and loneliness that comes with this move is inevitable. Even for someone like me who had the experience of leaving home and staying in a different city for years back home, who moved at a later age than you did, I experienced all of it. We all do. You are not alone in feeling that way. So, if you feel lonely, call home, call us; feel free to share your experiences; we've got you, N! Some days it feels like an extremely bad decision to have been so excited to experience this today, but I promise you, it gets better with time. It does.

Another important thing- do not ever compare yourself and your journey with those who have been living abroad for a while now. Don’t just look at their lifestyle and start getting frustrated in a month or two already. You see my travel updates constantly on social media and may think she has such a perfect life in the US. I am not going to lie; at this point, I have a pretty good life here. But also remember this is almost 6 years later for me. I started just like you. People who know me closely have heard this multiple times: during my first two years in the US, I felt like a bug in a jar. It felt like someone put me in a jar and tightened the lid from the top. The only mobility I had in my life for the first two years was from my apartment to grad school and vice versa. Sometimes I went grocery shopping with my roommates. The farthest I went was to my cousin’s place in the metroplex. They were so kind to come to pick me up during the holidays. But still, I was in a confined space for most of the time. All my dreams did not make sense to me then because of loneliness. It was then I realized the seriousness of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. How could I think of my dreams when I was pretty much at the bottom of the pyramid? Traveling was an out-of-the-reach kind of thing then. But once I finished my grad school and started a job, things started getting better. Remember, everything you see now has been in the making for the last six years. It did not happen overnight.

Sometimes I look at people who own houses and drive fancy cars, and I realize that I've reached a level of maturity where I also consider their timelines. Everyone's journey is different, and timing varies, but success doesn't happen overnight for anyone. Time is a powerful force. You've probably heard about the life cycle of a butterfly, the metamorphosis; it doesn't occur instantly. You will have everything you have dreamt of but give it time. Slowly and gradually, everything will fall into place for you as well.

Make friends outside your own community

When you move abroad and hear someone speaking your language, it’s so easy to bond with that person. You will probably end up being good friends with them right there, right then. That’s amazing. But please remember you are now in a different country. One of the beauties of moving abroad is that you can now become friends with people from all over the world. Don’t shy from saying Hi to someone who is not from Nepal. I know it’s not easy. Especially when you are new, you want to stick with your peeps. In all honesty, I did that myself. So, I am telling you, make friends outside the Nepali community as well.

You will never believe how similar so many cultures around the world are until you talk to someone from a different community. Share your cool experiences from back home. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable sometimes. Vulnerability brings people closer. Ask questions, be curious about different cultures. You will feel a lot less lonely once you start doing that. One step at a time, but just remind yourself to be the first person to say Hi if the other person doesn’t. People probably want to communicate with you, but may not have the courage, so don’t be afraid to be that courageous person.

You are a lot smarter than you think

We immigrants tend to downplay our strengths a lot. I am telling you from my own experience, that we underestimate ourselves. We are smarter than we think. You went to one of the best schools in the country back home, you are where you are today because you worked towards it. You are smart. Believe in yourself.

A lot of times, because we don’t speak English as much back home, we tend to think the way we speak English is equivalent to how smart we are. That’s not true. Language is a medium of expressing yourself. Once you start speaking English as much as you will have to do from now on, you will start to express yourself better in no time. I remember my early grad school days, I never said anything in class because I was thinking of my response in Nepali and then translating it in my head. I was too conscious of my grammar and tense and hardly spoke in class. Even though I wanted to answer, I did not. But as I look back, I always think of the time factor. I have come a long way since then. I am much more confident than I used to be. So, don’t be hard on yourself if you need more time to learn anything. The only way from here is forward, so growth is inevitable for you. Just be kind to yourself!

Don’t lose your focus

Sometimes, it is easier to lose focus on why you left home in the first place. I have seen a lot of young students getting distracted by other things. Do not lose your focus. You went for higher education, and that should be your top priority. Good things will follow if you stay focused and give your best to your studies.

Join Student Clubs and Societies

When you move countries, cultural shock is real. When I moved to the US, I struggled so much to make new friends. Being nosy, and being in someone’s space was not what we thought about while making friends back home. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around these concepts then.

But at some point, I joined a student association. Someone elected me to become Treasurer of the student government association. To date, I don’t know who it was that elected me, but that person changed my life. That association opened several doors of opportunities for me in the second year of grad school. I may not have made friends, but I made a lot of acquaintances because of that. My second year was definitely less lonely than the first year. I ended up at different tables in the university, where I could voice my opinions. I felt empowered and slowly developed a sense of belonging because of that. So, if an opportunity presents itself, never say No. If it doesn’t, then don’t hesitate to go find out. Who knows you might find your best buddies in the student associations/societies?

Your journey is entirely personal

Since you have made up your mind about leaving Nepal, you may have come across a lot of unsolicited advice (including mine). One thing about us immigrants, in general, is we are very good at giving advice. People will tell you to do this, do that. “Oh, that’s going to work out perfectly fine.” “Oh, that’s not good and whatnot!” It’s good to listen to people and their experiences, you will learn a lot from them. But I also want you to remember your journey is purely personal. Just because something worked out for me or someone else doesn’t mean it will work out the same way for you as well. And the same goes for the things that did not work out for someone else.

I will give you an example- people told me it was almost impossible for an international student to land a good job with a public health degree in the US. I was advised to consider pursuing IT to make a good living. They were not wrong about the IT sector. However, I interviewed for a job that aligned with my degree and received an offer right after graduation. I may not be making the same amount of money as IT professionals, but I am happy where I am right now. I am happy that I believed in myself and got a job when people did not believe in me.

Everyone’s path is unique. Remember you are paving YOUR path.

Don’t forget to have fun

You left home to experience a new education system, a new country, and new cultures, and to make new friends. Sometimes we get deep into homesickness, forgetting our dreams weaved in the first place when we applied for the schools and all those exciting times when the place we ended up was a big dream! Although the big feelings might be preventing a clearer picture, you are LIVING your dream life. You dreamt of being exactly where you are for years. Acknowledge that. Don’t get too serious about life. You are young and you are in your dream country. Go have some fun. You have never been this free in your life ever. But remember this freedom comes with responsibility too. Be responsible and enjoy your life!

Six years of living abroad has taught me a lot of things. You will probably resonate with many things I say now more than you have in the past. I hope this was helpful, N. Remember, you can reach out to me whenever you need. You know I am always here for you. I cannot wait to see you achieve great things and reach new heights. My best wishes are always with you, little one. Take care!

Much Love,

Your sister