Home away from home – A personal, but shared story among university studentsTue, Mar 2, 2021
When I moved to Tokyo, Japan, fall of 2019 for Waseda University, inevitably, my family did not move with me and even now do not live in Japan. This was me joining the experience of most university students: opening the doors to new connections, academia, experiences, and individuality, but closing the door to living with family – a familiarity many of us grow up with.
I was fortunate to have been able to move into the Waseda International Student House (WISH) dormitory, when I started university and though I was not ready to leave my family, I was ready for a new journey. Thus, this was a perfect start. Whether it was about moving to Japan from a foreign background to moving to Tokyo from another prefecture in Japan, I was surrounded by new friends who were all in similar positions or had experienced the same challenges of moving away from home. For myself, I had grown up in China attending an international school with the hopes of living in Japan again to rekindle the connection I had with the roots of my origins. Waseda University offered that to me but with so much more.
I think I had always taken for granted the extremely fortunate position I was in to think that I could simply fly home if I needed to; ‘home’ being an abstract and non-physical place for me as really, home meant being with family. Of course, when the global pandemic of COVID-19 began, that possibility shrunk and not just for myself, but also for people and students all over the world. Personally, but not being the only one with this story, I have not seen my family for over a year. Is it safe for me to say that I am homesick? I would think so.
The pandemic put us all in conflicting positions. For Japanese students with homes in Japan, going back to their parents or grandparents carrying the anxiety of maybe having caught the virus in Tokyo stopped some from choosing to go home. For international students with homes or family members not in Japan, plane tickets, VISA’s, quarantine, and of course, the fear of spreading or catching the virus unknowingly stood ominously before our decisions. The action of going home that used to be spoken about so casually is now a longing. However, at Waseda, a university that offers the chance to create, build, and join communities of immense diversity, the community at WISH that I and other students stay at, gave many of us the support and strength to carry on.
WISH is a Waseda student dormitory established in 2014 with 9 floors separated by gender. Each floor, with the same set up of a shared kitchen for the entire floor and a living room space shared by every four residents, interestingly has its own distinct atmosphere. Arguably, this could be one of those social, indescribable happenings dependent on personalities, character, and also the three to four residing resident assistants (RA) per floor. Each floor is an opportunity to meet with people of all backgrounds and faculties. It is ultimately a powerful example of how international the student body at Waseda University is. It is also a great transition for international students moving to Japan. Although the dormitory is not as full or the same as before the global pandemic, among the current and incoming dormitory residents, making new friends and being with this community of friends has been a highlight of online university life.
Being surrounded by friends to go study, relax, or even just go grocery shopping together is a precious aspect of university life made possible with this Waseda community at WISH. During the semester, as students busy themselves with work, there is a lot on one’s mind that the thoughts of home are manageable. However, perhaps the most difficult time of the year where homesickness really creeps in is at the end of the year where most of us are accustomed to being back home with family. Last year (2020), many of the dormitory residents remained at WISH. I was one of those residents and upon asking or being asked what our winter break plans were, the response of not being able to go back home and staying at WISH would be given. This was, dramatically but honestly speaking, tainted with a mask of being okay but leading to a silent understanding on either end of accepting what could not be helped given the situation. Yet, being at WISH reminded us that you were not alone. What I found grateful about WISH was that those who were unable to go home had friends or roommates in a similar situation to spend the end of the year and the New Year with. Some cooked together, some watched the end of year Japanese show Kouhaku with the kitchen TV together, and some just spent time together. At that moment and even now, for university students still getting used to being away from the comforts of home and becoming more independent, having this company was and is necessary.
Although not being with family is unquestionably hard, for many of us at WISH, having our friends around in the same building or floor to come ‘home’ together with, spend time, and make memories that we can share with our family members has really become a home away from home. It has made me realize the intricacies of what we call home to not be a place but a feeling brought about by being with people who matter to you. The WISH community is not the same as immediate family, but it definitely is a type of family that regardless of the situation, is memorable to be a part of and start your Waseda University life at.
*This article was written and contributed by the following student.
Misato Fujii (2nd Year Student)
School of International Liberal Studies