I was surprised when Google Map showed I am 3,268 miles away from home. I have never been as far away from home as I am now. My family lives only 8 miles from my college campus. Whenever I crave my mother’s cooking, want a nice shower or miss my warm and soft bed, I simply hop on the school shuttle and arrive home in less than an hour. Now studying abroad in London, I am 6.5 hours flight time away from home.
I felt sorry about leaving my family and studying in a city half a world away. Growing up in a traditional Chinese family, I am deeply influenced by the old Chinese saying from the Confucian Analects: “While his parents are alive, the son may not go abroad to a distance.” In Chinese culture, staying close to our parents is an important aspect of filial piety, the virtue of the respect of the younger to the older generation. The children ought to take care of their parents and spend as much time as possible with them to show esteem. My decision of studying abroad would be seen as against tradition and rebellious in ancient China.
Things are different nowadays. Chinese children look forward to more independence and freedom. They hope to explore the world while maintaining a strong tie with their parents.
Chinese parents are more open-minded than before as well. The idea of children going on their own adventures becomes more acceptable to them now. Still, studying abroad was not an easy decision to make for my family. I am an only child, and my family and I have never been separated for more than two weeks.
Once I go abroad, my mother will be left alone in America for half a year. It also won’t be easy for us to talk to each other whenever we want because of the time difference. I saw the sadness on my mother’s face when I told her my plan. She was staring at the floor and didn’t respond immediately. I was nervous and concerned if she would eventually agree. “You should go as long as you think it is good for you,” she finally said after a lengthy period of silence. Other than surprised, I was very grateful at that moment.
It was not an easy call for my family, so I especially cherish this opportunity to study abroad and to start a new life on my own. Even though I have only been in London for a month, I have already learned so much. I learned to cook, to set up my room all by myself, to effectively budget my money…
However, most importantly I learned to understand my mother and appreciate what she has done for me. Always being picky about her cooking, I now call my cooking a success as long as the food is cooked thoroughly. I ran out of dinner ideas and was having a headache coming up with more only two weeks after I started to cook while my mother has been cooking for me for more than twenty years. I used to complain to her about the tedious work of picking out sweaters from a full load of clothes and hang drying them.
After three of my sweaters shrank in the dryer, I would not say a word against her suggestions any more. It also surprised me that I unconsciously picked up some of her habits that I whined about at home such as always putting vegetables on the left side of the second shelf in the fridge, fruits in the middle and dairy on the right. A few weeks ago I showed my mother my new room via FaceTime. She was amazed and exclaimed, “This is exactly how I would arrange this room!” “I’m becoming you, mom.” I joked in reply.
Even though there is a 5-hour time difference between London and Boston, I video call my mother every day. We share stories of our day and listen to each other’s worries. Even though I can’t perform filial piety as I should in Chinese tradition and there are 3,268 miles between us, I can at least let her know I am always with her by wishing her good night every night.
Wenli Bao is a Student at Brandeis University studying Business and Psychology who studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at University College London in England in 2017. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-To-Study Program.