Moving away from home for the first timebut make it in the middle of a deadly pandemic and three continents away.

Moving away from home was supposed to be easy: I’d get my visa, book my tickets and fly over to Canada.

What I didn’t anticipate: COVID-19. Aaaaaand good ol’ homesickness.

You know what? Let’s back it up and kick off from the beginning.

A notebook open to a page that says "Chapter one: yes."

Does anything ever go according to plan?

In September 2020, I decided to follow my lifelong dream of studying journalism abroad. After months of research, I applied and got accepted into Humber College. Ever the optimist, I believed we’d be rid of COVID-19 by 2021 and life would go back to how it was supposed to be.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t.

As cases in my home country, India, kept reaching new highs, so did my anxiety. And, with the flight ban on India extending every month, the future that I thought would be easy to attain seemed blurry.

But two flight cancellations and a month full of breakdowns later, I was finally able to get on my flight to Canada. (Technically, it was my flight to Qatar since we were required to quarantine in a third country before being able to enter Canada.)

While I’ve heard quite a few travel and quarantine horror stories from fellow international students, I was fortunate enough to have a peaceful experience. The 10 days I spent in Qatar flew by in a daze of catching up on lost sleep and going through my pile of Dramione fanfics.

View of clouds from an airplane

After over a year of planning, months of arrangement and weeks of travelling, I finally landed in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

Now what?

Feeling the blues

All my life, I always knew what to do. I always knew what to expect. But standing there in the middle of Pearson Airport, surrounded by people being greeted by their relatives and friends, I had no idea what to do.

Scared, confused and feeling absolutely lost, I stood there waiting to wake up from what felt like a dream.

Thankfully, my quarantine partner and her relatives swooped in to save me from the utterly helpless state I was in. They helped me settle in and stocked me up with enough supplies to last for days.

Now, I must admit, for someone who thought homesickness was for the weak, I sure did spend the next three weeks crying myself to sleep every night.

As I settled into a monotonous routine of studying, working and just existing, my doubts regarding the move brimmed to the surface.

“Am I doing the right thing? Do I really want to live away from my family and friends? Is leaving my loved ones to live completely alone in a different country worth it?”

My nights were spent replaying old memories like a never-ending videotape. All I wanted to do was go back and hug my family a little tighter. And aimlessly spend hours chit-chatting and playing with my friends.

A crossroad

But all these thoughts led me to a crossroad: I could either spend a miserable time here crying about the past, or I could shut up and make the most out of this beautiful opportunity that I’ve got. So, I chose the latter.

Getting my act together

Even though my motivation to have a great time wore off the next morning, I forced myself to go out and explore the city. And, boy, am I glad that I did.

Walking across Toronto’s Harbourfront, I finally felt alive. Seeing people work, eat and go about their day-to-day lives without a care in the world reignited my sense of purpose. This is what I’ve come for: to learn and to explore. No matter how much I hate change, I need it. I need it to grow; I need it to fuel myself.

All’s well that ends well, right?

Fast-forward to the present and I now have no regrets. I’ve spent the past few weeks exploring Toronto. I’ve made new friends and had new experiences. For the first time in 22 years, I am consciously learning new things.
Everyday, I’m discovering new things about myself. Like, apparently, I do like waking up early and I do like eating healthy. I am annoyingly competitive and terrible at cooking. I love going on long walks and, surprisingly, I prefer cities over suburbs.

Do I still miss home? Yes. Do I still cry myself to sleep? Occasionally. But would I turn back the clock and reverse this experience? Nope. Never.

Stepping out of my comfort zone is the best thing I could’ve done for myself.

I’m standing here with an empty slate I can fill with as many colours as I want. I’m meeting new people, hearing new stories and creating new memories.

Janice Saji poses next to red and yellow flowers.
Here’s a picture of me from one of my weekly tours!

What I want you to know

So, what is the point of this article? It’s me trying to say that if you’re feeling the same, it’s OK. It’s OK to feel sad. You don’t have to feel guilty about being sad despite having the privilege to study in another city or country. You’re only human. It’s okay to cry.

But don’t give up. Don’t let this keep you from experiencing all the amazing opportunities available at your fingertips.

Grab every moment you get and live it to the fullest. As hard as it might seem, step out. Step out and meet new people, discover new places, learn new things.

Take everything life has to offer and make the most out of it. I’ve begun doing so and I love it. And, now, staring ahead, I can’t wait to see what else life has in store for me. But for now, I’m taking one day at a time, living every moment to the fullest.

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