One of the most common challenges that study abroad students face is being separated from family – and for me, for the longest time and for the farthest distance yet. And while at university in the US I often let the phone remain silent for far longer than I should, I enjoy the luxury of being a mere two and a half hours from home. The trip is short enough that, more than once, I’ve found a parent on my doorstep ready to pick up the pieces from my latest tear-filled catastrophe. Not only that, my beloved ’97 Camry that hasn’t yet broken down on my many trips back and forth to get some good home cooked food and family lovin’. Needless to say, I’m lucky to (normally) have family so close by, and being abroad makes me appreciate it even more.
Now, over 4,000 miles and an ocean away, I’ve arrived at my most birthday-filled month of the year – February has been a month full of cake and badly sung renditions of “Happy Birthday” for as long as I can remember. Here’s to some of the wonderful people in my life!
Bà Ngoại (February 8th)
My mother’s mother may sometimes seem quiet, but she has a beautiful voice with an even more beautiful story to tell. Leaving a comfortable life in Vietnam to escape a war torn country and start anew in a completely foreign place, this woman has more bravery than she lets on to with the way she dotes on her grandchildren. When I think about how difficult it must have been for her to leave everything behind and learn a new language, navigate a vastly different culture, find work, and raise a family, I’m almost ashamed to complain of homesickness or culture shock during my study abroad. I love the way she shuffles into our house with bags overflowing with Vietnamese food – and I’ve learned that her habit of constantly trying to feed everyone is not, in fact, her trying to fatten us up – making sure everyone is well fed is part of Vietnamese culture, and it’s one way she says “I love you.” To my Bà Ngoại, happy birthday!
Daniel (February 9th)
Forgetting each others’ birthdays is what friends are for, right? We make it a tradition. Daniel’s family is like my second family – besides my own house, there’s no where else I feel comfortable letting myself in and making myself a bowl of cereal before wandering into the living room to say hi. Always ready with a quick wit or some fascinating commentary on politics and often found watching the latest Colbert Report or Wizard’s games, he’s company that’s hard to beat. I have Daniel to thank for my slightly-better-than-terrible basketball skills and for never letting me forget that I’m an “awful” wing[wo]man. Happy birthday, Dan! When we’re Stateside again, I promise I’ll buy you a box of Lucky Charms to make up for a trying four months without them.
Bo (February 12th)
Although I can’t take sides, Bo is a serious contender for the title of Best College Roommate. I love how laid back Bo is, and I hope some of it rubs off on me. Bo is an extremely bright guy, but he’ll never tell you so – he’s too modest for that. His sense of humor mixes well with those of our other two roommates, and I sometimes feel like I live in a real-life sitcom. I’ve never met anyone who is better at creating alarming amounts of smoke in a kitchen without actually burning the house down, and I will always remember the time when I cried for days over a break up and he surprised me with a feel-better cake (a real feat for someone who has made bacon that is both raw and burnt). Bo has an incredible capacity for caring, and during my monthly lie-in-a-heap-on-the-floor-complaining-dramatically-about-my-uterus sessions, he often offers to make me tea and/or carry me to my room. Happy birthday to one of the nicest guys I know! I hope you’re not having too much fun without me back in Virginia.
Taylor (February 18th)
I can’t believe my baby sister’s all grown up! She’s always been a smart cookie, from learning how to avoid the trouble I’d get into when we were still in the single digit years, to teaching herself to play piano (better than I can after taking five years of lessons), to rocking her college admissions. She’s got an eye for style, which means she’s constantly chasing down clothing that I’ve “borrowed” and telling me that no, I can’t try on her new jacket “just to see if it fits.” She’s always been the cutie pie of the family, and she has a special touch with animals – let’s just say that she’s often surrounded by cuteness. And while she’ll always be my adorable little sister to me, I have to admit that she’s blossomed into a gorgeous young woman – in part evidenced by a trail of broken hearts behind her and that-poor-boy Zach’s she’s left in the friend zone. (And she knows I’ll never think any guy is good enough for her!) To our sister bonding, both serious and silly, and to all of the sibling squabbling that you’ve put up with, happy birthday, sis!
Mom (February 20th)
Where can I even begin – my mom means the world to me. My mother is outgoing and quirky and takes no shame in being herself. Her immigration story is one of resilience, perseverance, and self sufficiency – one that I can take inspiration from everyday. She has a honed intuition about people, which is one of many tools in her arsenal as a social worker and a mom. Throughout the years, she’s been an enemy, a best friend, a counselor, an enforcer, a shoulder to cry on, an unfiltered mirror, and no matter how much I drive her crazy, she’s always there for me. As much as I say I want independence, I can never stay away from home for long while she has hugs and food to lure me back with. Mom, here’s wishing I could sing your weird and woo-filled version of happy birthday to you in person this year – happy birthday to you, woo!
Georgia (February 28th)
I remember when this girl was still just a bump in my aunt’s belly, and my sister and I fought over “whose” cousin she would be. (Paul and Griffin, this happened for you, too.) She’s growing up so quickly, and it makes me feel a little old to realize that soon she’ll be as old as I was when she was born. I’ve watched her chubby baby cheeks and toddler curiosity evolve into the beautiful face and sassiness that embody her today – and I can’t wait to see how much more she’ll grow in years to come. Her style has slowly morphed from my sister’s and my hand-me-downs into her own, distinct look, and as the only girl in a pack of five, this girl knows how to roll with the punches and stick up for herself. Happy birthday, Georgia Peach!
And to everyone – I’m so sorry I can’t be there in person to smother you in hugs and cake, but I’m sending my love from Europe! Thanks to all of you for being a part of my life – may you celebrate many more birthdays!