There are the lyrics that go: “Only need the light when it is burning low. Only miss the sun when it starts to snow”, whose implications of “being grateful for what you have” resonate dearly with my feelings of studying far away from home.
I was born and raised in Hanoi, Vietnam. A country that needs a roughly 17-hour flight from the Netherlands, which seems so far geographically but still close mentally, as I proudly carry my Viet pride wherever I go. Yet, it is ironic that my feeling of country appreciation only grows stronger when I am no longer in Vietnam, which makes me realize how emotionally attached I have been to my homeland.
It all started when I studied abroad in the Netherlands, which was my first time going to a foreign country. I vividly remember arriving at Rotterdam, dazed and amazed at its classic architecture, from sober cathedrals to rows of houses with extremely high staircases leading up the main door, and big windows eccentrically placed so close to the ground. Even the smallest things like crossing the street and cars stopping for passengers to walk could get me excited about living here. “Everything was so new, so eye-opening, and definitely more modern than the living conditions in Vietnam” – I thought to myself. However, my “honeymoon phase” with this city only lasted for a little bit more than a month. After reveling in several getting-to-know meetups and getting accustomed to the way of living, I was brought back to the reality of studying and living alone for the first time.
Living alone is harder than I thought, at least for me. I fell into a limbo where my every day kept repeating itself: waking up, eating, going to classes, eating again, studying, and sleeping. Having never been a good cook, my go-to meal would usually be either bread with hummus or pasta with breast chicken and a side of broccoli. I ate them almost every day, so much to the point that they could no longer cheer me up. Only at that moment did I realize how much I missed my hometown. I suddenly thought of all the good food I had in Vietnam. I need a hot bowl of chicken pho with extra welsh onion to warm me up in the winter. I need my mom’s dish of rice and spring rolls to give me the energy needed for a day.
I left Vietnam with very few scenic pictures being taken. Since I have lived there my whole life, I assumed that I didn’t need many photos to remind me of Hanoi. It turns out that when you are living far away, you crave more than just some mental pictures of your home to keep it alive in your mind. I miss the trademark nature of Hanoi, or its so-called two ends of extreme character, which encompasses many opposite traits, but like a magnet, they still irresistibly co-exist. Hanoi can be extremely heated in the summer, when the smoke is lifted from the cracks of bumpy streets, reflecting a collection of tiring silhouettes who commute under the scorching sun; or it can be freezing cold, stiffening people’s movements. Hanoi contains a good mixture of nostalgia and modernity. Among the clammy texture of yellow paint houses sprung up side by side, there are the scatterings of odd-man-out architectural posturings and skyscrapers aiming for the sky, which do not match with the surroundings by all means. But, altogether they create a contemporary and poetic touch to the cityscape. Being a local, I used to not really appreciate the things that I had, but now, from the outsider’s perspective, I have learned to love the city’s imperfections more.
Having expressed my appreciation for Hanoi, this is not to say that I am unhappy with my life in the Netherlands right now. Being far away from home has taught me the importance of self-care. After many times of trial and error, I now know how to cook myself a proper meal and I am on the way to recreating some Vietnamese traditional dishes of my own. I also found out that cooking can be very therapeutic and has become my way of decompressing whenever I feel burnt out.
In the end, it is a necessary period to get out of your comfort zone, travel to new places, and embrace the mess because that’s where the good stuff lives. Being appreciative requires perspective. Therefore, despite all odds, I encourage you to travel more, as it gives you the maturity needed to truly appreciate the values of your hometown.
Author: Quynh Trang Le
Editor: Phoebe Elliott
Visuals by: Magali Meijers