‘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?” 🙂 

A Home Away From Home

By Tessa Lim 

I remember it vividly. As I entered the little refugee school back in 2016, the children were eager and friendly, welcoming me almost instantly.

“Teacher! Teacher! Teach me! No! I want her to teach me!”

You could tell that they were smart, excited and ready to learn. Everyone was smiling and welcoming me whole-heartedly with a sincerity I had never seen before.

I was especially captivated by the face of one little girl . She had a pretty face, and she seemed happy, but her smile did not reach her eyes. My instantaneous impression of her was that she had a kind soul, but also a painful background. It was almost as if she had seen so much in the world, despite only being six years old.

She was Huai Nu, a refugee child from Myanmar. When I first walked up to her, she was shy and afraid. She ran to her elder brother, pulling away from me, probably wary and distrusting of strangers. Either that, or she couldn’t be bothered to have a conversation with me. But I liked her.

Overtime, I got to know so many of them: San Kheh, Vung Bawi, Nuam Boih, Khai Lam. One of my student’s name was Saw Thoot, which was directly translated to “Saw Blessing”. Apparently, his family name was Saw but I guessed his parents wanted him to “see blessings”. The children also always had something interesting to say. I remembered asking them to spell the word “laugh” in a spelling test but they misunderstood it as “love”. We went on trips to the National Science Museum, the bread factory and even shopped for Rohingya traditional clothes together. We were like a family.

Huai Nu began to open up, and I realized that she was artistically inclined. One day, she grabbed me a chair and told me to sit beside her. She took out a piece of paper and started drawing a man, then a woman, then a child. She told me that was her family portrait. However, her father had left her when she and her mother relocated to Malaysia as refugees. I gently patted on her back and told her not to be sad, but she did not say a word. She looked straight into my eyes and just nodded. I felt helpless and felt that she deserved better. Slowly, Huai Nu became one of my favorite students even though she struggled academically. But the silver lining was that she was independent. Even though she struggled with English, she gave it her best effort. She was tenacious, and jovial, despite her circumstances.

My job was to teach them but they have taught me even more. They’ve taught me key life lessons. No matter what your background and circumstances may be – there is always a reason to smile and laugh. Even with all the hardship they were going through, they found time to play and be joyful. They were friendly with no judgment.

It was important to me to help nurture these children into thinkers and doers; to polish these rare gems from the underprivileged community. They also made me want to be a better medical student. They made me want to study harder to be the best doctor I could be. More than anything else, they made me want to be a better person.

Just a few months ago, Huai Nu and her mother moved to America.

“Nganinkolwante, teacher Tessa!’’

“I will miss you too, Huai Nu!’’

Even though my roots are in East Malaysia, the Christian Fellowship Centre in West Malaysia will always be home to my refugee students and my home away from home.

Nick’s Healthy Bolognese Sauce

By Nicholas Wilkes 

With many of us off placements or back home and learning from online lectures, now is a good time to try some new healthy recipes when you need a break from studying. This week, I’d recommend trying this healthy Bolognese sauce recipe that I shamelessly stole from my mom. It’s a great meal prep item as you can easily scale up the size of batch to match your needs, and as most of the ingredients are optional, can still be readily made with the limited supplies on the supermarket shelves!

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