A letter from 7,240 miles away

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Shuk Kwan Kokieice Yau/The Union

In 10 minutes I arrived at LAX, only five minutes to check in, two minutes to go through immigration, and 16 hours to say goodbye to California.

Then I arrived back in my hometown, Hong Kong.

After returning to Hong Kong, back home, I felt as if I lived in a parallel universe with two souls living in different destinations but sharing the same body.

Studying abroad, my class schedule ran from Monday to Wednesday, 2 a.m. to 5 a.m., including a 15 hour time difference between Hong Kong and the United States.

But even so, it was my first time taking online classes overseas. I also remembered the time because I was too nervous. I lost a midterm exam and handed in my homework late.

At times, I felt like I suffered from obsessive-compulsive tendencies, continuously checking the deadline for my homework every day.

Before I went back to Hong Kong, I predicted in late August that I would find errors in time differences, and before I knew it, I received a phone call on Sept. 7.

“Hey, your cousin is in danger; we think you better come home as soon as possible,” my mother said in Cantonese.

That day, I felt like I was standing at the crossroads, as the road ahead seemed so vast.

The variety of information and advice given was like four cars being thrown at me all at once — I didn’t know what would be the best choice.

The feeling continued as I stood in the middle of the road, not knowing whether I should go ahead or stay behind.

Before I left, I talked to my counselor at El Camino College and was assured that I had no problem studying overseas. I bought my plane ticket and was back home in two weeks.

After returning to Hong Kong, I checked into my hotel for two weeks of self-isolation and quarantine.

I opened the hotel door and took two steps forward with the toilet on my left, with three steps to my bed. There was also a small book table beside the bed.

I stayed in that small room for 14 days.

While sitting in the small room, I listened to the neighboring room’s noise and the smell of smoke coming from the toilet. I tried to ignore everything, turned on the computer and waited for my online class to begin.

However, I found out that the hotel’s network was not stable, which meant I couldn’t connect properly to Zoom to take the class.

After leaving the United States, 14 days in quarantine, and missing in-person classes on campus, everything happened so suddenly.

My life was a mess, and I lost confidence in my ability to continue to study.

In the United States, my responsibility was to take care of myself and finish school. But when I came home, I had developed a different identity and acquired more responsibility.

Because I was the only one in my family who did not have a full-time job, I took on the responsibility of taking care of my cousin and her kids.

During the day, I had to take care of my cousin by doing hospital turns while also accompanying my cousin to the hospital in the early morning.

As a result, my class time was seriously affected, and my study life.

Since I did not have much personal time to spend studying, I admired all the mothers in school at El Camino College that balanced both roles effortlessly.

Life back in Hong Kong sounded like a real mess at times, but because of this, I felt an unprecedented sense of belonging at El Camino College.

As an international student, I see American students around me as very kind, all the while, I regarded myself as different and not having a great sense of belonging at the school.

But when I thought I had to face the storm alone, my professor and classmates lent me a helping hand by understanding and supporting my journey, again and again.

More than half of the semester has passed, and I still get the time wrong so often that I have to arrange my schedule a week in advance and check it every day.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have distanced me from my American classmates or friends socially, but we are able to connect through our virtual, little box.

It feels far away, but brought people to care for each other and feel closer emotionally.

In 2020, I lost my friends due to the COVID-19 pandemic, experienced illness and death, acquired a new identity as a proxy mother. But I also felt loved and cared for regardless of my race, time differences, and distance.

I began to enjoy this “long-distance relationship.”