‘What Did You Have For Dinner?’

By Tracy Nguyen 

“What did you have for dinner?”

If this question seems strangely familiar to you, it’s probably because, like me, it’s what your mum asks you every day at the start of your calls. And of course, on days where we call several times, there would be the variant of ‘what did you have for breakfast?’ or ‘what did you have for lunch?’.

Being an international student means I am living very far away from home for the first time in my life and can only go back once or twice a year. Even after four years spent in Melbourne, I can never really say for certain that I no longer feel homesick. Fortunately, with how busy med life is and thanks to all the support I have from my beloved friends, the homesickness is only temporary, and  doesn’t prevent me from enjoying my life in Australia. It is more like a reminder of the fact that I now have two places to call home, with even more people who care about me.

In the early days of arriving in Melbourne, I would cry at the moment I heard my mum’s voice over the phone asking me ‘what did you have for dinner?’. Instead, I now excitedly share photos of my simple meals with her, and just reassure her that I am not starving due to COVID-19. Although things have changed significantly since the day I left home, something that hasn’t changed is how much my mum still worries about me.

I know that there is nothing exciting about the repetitive recipes that I make throughout the week, but that is just the way our conversations always start. There will always also be a series of other classic questions about the weather, whether I wear warm enough clothes, and reminders to get enough sleep and to drive safely.  Strangely enough, I never grow sick of all these familiar questions – it’s just her way of showing her love and care, and hearing her concern after having a long, busy day warms my heart. It somehow makes me feel like she is always there by my side no matter how far apart we are physically.

 I’m sharing this story about my homesickness as a reminder that it is normal to feel upset, lonely, homesick, and stressed. Whether you’re a first year or final year, an international or local student, living far away from home or spending time with your beloved family, this is a difficult time with uncertainty and disruption for everyone, and we all need to time to adapt to this new situation.

The most important thing to remember is that no matter where you are, you should always have access to some form of support. Family, as always, will be an amazing source of comfort and will always be there for you whether or not you can meet them in person. With the help of modern technology, social distancing is much more of a physical effort rather than a social one; it does not sever the ties between us but rather brings people together and further emphasises the significance of the social connectedness that we may sometimes take for granted.

So take this opportunity to spend more quality time with your family, call some good friends you may not have had the chance to chat with in a while due to your busy schedule, and make sure they all know you are thinking of them. And of course, be ready to start the conversation with the question “what did you have for dinner?” 🙂 

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