Like any teenager on the cusp of adulthood, I could not wait to leave home, spread my wings, and soar. The world was my oyster. Despite being restricted in college choices, I knew I couldn’t stay at home any longer. My dad told me I had to either study in Dubai, or in India. I knew I had to leave, so I chose to study in India. I was finally ready for the adventure, for a new life.

What I was not ready for, however, was the food poisoning. Or the homesickness, the constant stress, the constant cleaning, or even the laundry. I spent about a quarter of my time just cleaning up. Honestly? I loved cleaning up because it was my space, it was my home. I also quickly realized why my mom was such a stickler for a clean house.

Preparing meals and maintaining a home can be exhausting, and it became easier to follow a routine. I learned that it’s easier to maintain a clean home than let it build and spend hours cleaning up. Having a routine made it easier to get things done, and helped me structure my day.

Living alone does have its benefits; you realize a lot about life and about yourself. It was surprising to see how much I learned about other people. I learned about trust, about opening up to others, and relying on people that weren’t my family. Living in a hostel meant depending on people I had just met, and I got an incredible chance to build a family of my own, a home away from home.

Getting an apartment made me realize how much work goes into caring for a house. I learned more about my parents when I was away from them, more than I ever did back home. I spoke to people who’s parents went to the same college my mom went to; it was a fun glimpse into my mother’s past. I learned that my parents cared for me but weren’t helicopters – they didn’t monitor my every move abroad. They called me often enough to check up on me, but also left me to handle things on my own. It was freeing, and comforting to know they were there if I needed them. 

Being away helped me become more tolerant and more accepting.

I learned to live with other people and their quirks; I also learned how to share spaces, and be more accommodating. It was interesting sharing a room with another girl; I learned about other family structures – I grew up in a nuclear family, so those with joint or extended families was fascinating to me. I had to make decisions that impacted my life without a safety net. Being alone taught me about responsibility and consequence. I was in charge of my own meals, cleaning my apartment, and catching up with college work.

My biggest lesson was budgeting; learning to pay bills, rent, groceries, and have some money left over for other expenses, like dinners and movies. I also learned about people; those who mattered and those who didn’t. It’s interesting to see who sticks by you when you’re at your lowest. I had plenty of fair-weather friends, but a handful that I could see myself growing old with. 

Living at home because of the pandemic has been difficult. I’m suddenly stuck with a curfew again. Though my parents treat me like an adult in some ways, I’m still treated like a child in others. I suddenly have to watch how I dress and when I can leave. However, I am allowed to do what I want at home. I don’t have to explain all my actions, but I do have to reveal my whereabouts.

It’s been confusing, but I’ve learned to live with it.

It means that I can’t fully express myself, which is difficult.  I know my parents are just looking out for me. What used to be annoying is now seen as concerning. I know they want me to stay safe, even though that means giving up certain freedoms. I can respect that mindset. It can get frustrating, but I remind myself to try and see it from their perspective, too.  

When people wonder whether they should go to college abroad, or move houses, or even take an extended vacation elsewhere, I always encourage it. Traveling is the best form of education. Seeing new cultures can teach you so much, including your own. I never knew much about India because I grew up in Dubai. I never realized its diversity. Living there for four years made me appreciate the country I come from. It also made me want to explore more of it.

Coming home is always a mixed bag. Living away from home also made me realize just how comfortable home is. I miss the freedom of college, and I miss living alone. At the same time, I’m so grateful I have a home to come back to, especially during this time. I’m grateful that my parents are willing to take me in as an adult, but I do miss the responsibility. I’m glad I got to get out there and enjoy the world and I can’t wait to do that again. 

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  • Natalia Ahmed

    Natalia Nazeem Ahmed is a budding writer and editor with a BA from Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts in Pune, India, with a major in English Literature and a double minor in Philosophy and Film Studies. An avid reader, her goal is to build a career out of her fiction and non-fiction writing. In her spare time, she loves to knit for her loved ones.

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