Open-ended questions

International students aren’t looking for pity. We would love to bring colour to your lives.

I’m a Singaporean currently trying to wrap up my fourth semester of Law and International Relations at the Australian National University in Canberra.

I was initially planning on writing some advice for international students, but after careful consideration, I think I’d like to share my struggles – something I’ve finally found strength to put into words.

I share this today as penance for the terrible job I did an international representative of my college; for all the slip-ups I’ve inexcusably committed, but most importantly – as an honest account of my life that assertively recognises the ostensibly incessant struggles that my life has been, but equally testifies to the immeasurable goodness and blessings.

I initially found it incredibly hard to talk to people about my problems – not because I held privacy as sacred, but because of my brokenness. I have had people through various periods of my life become privy to almost every intimate detail about me – only for our paths to diverge especially when I desperately needed support. Each mention of an event in my private life is an extension of trust to me, and a cry out for emotional support.

Understand, please, that it is unpleasant, undesirable and terribly unintuitive for me to be expected to sit with a stranger, and be expected to present the broken pieces of a season – may I just ask to sit and speak with someone I can trust, to whom I don’t have to curate my life with exceeding care or shield from worry, or with whom I can shield myself from judgment?

I do want to be involved in the community; to get involved in the multitude of amazing social activities both college and on campus. But how can I not be miserly with my time, when my mother is squirreling away every cent she can to ensure that I can graduate? How can I forsake my studies and throw myself away from learning when I realise that my mother has essentially discarded her ability to buy her dream house, to go on a lavish excursion overseas, to flex an infinite amount of freedom in spending? How can I express this when I was essentially scolded by a countryman for being stupid for not being more social?

How may I say – my education here will cost half a million – if this number is perceived not as my chains but merely an excuse? When I say – look, I’d really love to come tonight: but I can’t, I’m really bogged down in work, I have to study – I am pleading for understanding – I fully understand that grades aren’t everything.

But with so much at stake in my success here, with the spectres of failure, a word spelt with just everything that can’t form success: I can’t swallow the ‘what ifs’ that I will face when I’m rejected for a job because I can’t impress. Inadequacy is a cast iron prod straight out of the furnace, ready to sear shame and scar regret into my skin.

I lament at the stereotype that I have become – the studious Asian student: crammed up in rooms so stuffy, so sterile, a wonderfully apt representation of how I occasionally feel stripped of all my qualities. May I please stress that I am not humble-bragging or being modest when I say that I devote myself to such studious efforts because I lack intelligence – I can’t. I am not the brightest pupil, and I’m not incredibly well-spoken, there are just too many inadequacies I hold for me to resist trying to possess myself with diligence and hard work.

It is a hard, bitter pill to swallow when I watch people affirm me for my competence in my work when they come to me for help, and then have my existence as an afterthought. It is an insurmountable effort for me to discontinue helping people – strangely enough I ardently do want to invest in and watch people grow. But I am so desperately trying to face a struggle to develop relationships in the process, I’m earnestly trying to assert myself and be accepted for it – so much so that “why” just seems like a lofty, open-ended question.

Still, for every struggle, and every drawn-out season of difficulty – I can count the blessings and extremely wonderful memories I have made here. I have to catch my breath to fully count the number of overwhelmingly good people I’ve met here – my fountainheads of life, support and lessons. What has been an incessant struggle has not altered the simple fact that I have been incredibly blessed in an amazing country.

If I may please stress a point – every person has a struggle to face, or a maze of difficulties to navigate through, and every person has a story to tell. International students aren’t looking for pity, we aren’t looking for charity and we aren’t looking to impose ourselves and make demands, or further an agenda. We would love to bring colour to your lives; to share our stories; to be blessed and bless – as a guest, I kindly ask that we may work together to achieve understanding and discourse.

This piece originally appeared in Woroni, a student publication of the Australian National University. You can check out Woroni’s website here. Republished with permission from the author.

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