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Origin Stories: Homesickness after going far away to school

Lenore Ramirez, 25, moved to Canada from Bahrain for school. Then her family moved back to the Philippines after almost two decades abroad, making trips home that much longer.

Lenore Ramirez came to Canada from Bahrain as a student, Toronto, Sunday, September 10, 2017.

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Lenore Ramirez came to Canada from Bahrain as a student, Toronto, Sunday, September 10, 2017.

About seven years ago, when my relatives drove me to Canada to drop me off at school, I was half expecting the landscape to change drastically as soon as I crossed the border from Detroit. That grey concrete and skies would change into snow, bears, and Mounties riding moose saddleback, not unlike a scene from the Polar Express. As a complete novice to Canada, I’d never experienced winter, much less snow, and at the tender age of 19, didn’t even know what to expect moving so far away from home.

The short and sweet version of my story is that I’m Filipino by birth, but lived in Bahrain for most of my life. My parents were overseas foreign workers, and although Bahrain was our home for nearly two decades, it presented limited opportunity. I ultimately chose to study in Canada (for its relatively “affordable” international tuition and immigration policies) to study fine arts and business at the University of Waterloo.

My family ended up uprooting back to the Philippines as a result of layoffs after the 2008 financial crisis, and as I left for school, my definition of home drastically changed.

In the most perfunctory sense, my arrival to Canada was seamless. I still remember the first time I burnt my tongue on Timmie’s, wearing way, way too many marshmallowy layers during my first Canadian winter, and racing outside my dorm room for the first taste of snow. But I'm not going to lie; in a deeper sense, it was and is the most difficult struggle of my life.

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Since 2011, I've struggled with homesickness, an ordeal not unfamiliar to those who go to university or college. I envied classmates who could go home during weekends, coming back with fresh laundry and Tupperware full of home-cooked meals in tow.

The holidays were particularly rough, and became an emotional minefield. Tuition is expensive, and it was tough to justify spending $1,500 on a plane ticket home for a few days. In a good year, I've been able to see my family for a month; in a bad year, I've seen my mom for just a weekend — or not at all. I also quickly learned that visiting other families during the holidays just dampened my feelings despite my best efforts — watching others’ intimate interactions with their families just felt like watching something I couldn't have.

I am endlessly grateful for the opportunities I have had and, above all, that I have a supportive mother who encourages my dreams; even if it meant footing the inordinate international tuition bill for an arts degree. However, it didn’t take long for me to become acutely aware of the true cost of my education — of my chasing my dreams — especially coming from a single-parent household.

There were times I felt unwelcome like when, to my fury, a classmate mentioned that immigrants were taking away Canadian jobs in front of the whole class. I suffered a terrifying series of panic attacks in my second year as I bowed to the immense pressure of school, finances, visas, and my homesickness. I was then diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, which I still battle today.

However, despite all of its difficulties, Canada has given me some of the best gifts of my life.

I am 25 years old now, and have loved ones and memories I know I'll cherish for several lifetimes, and being so far away from family has taught me the true value of all my relationships.

I've pushed myself farther than I ever could have had I stayed safe at home, and am presently working a great job in my chosen field of visual and UI/UX design while juggling a freelance illustration and design business on the side, just a year after graduation.

And most importantly, my tenacity and resilience have given me the strength to keep pushing forward, no matter where I end up, because I always carry my family’s faith and pride with me.

What I Miss About Home:

I’ve come to terms with defining ‘Home’ less as a place and more with the people. I obviously miss my mother’s reassuring strength (as well as her marvelous home cooking) and my brother’s sardonic wit.

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