To All of You Who Moved Abroad

Mayank Bansal
8 min readMay 20, 2019

The deeper struggles of living far away.

My brother and I, posing at my favorite spot in Chicago — the Alder Planetarium Skyline Walk.

I moved to the U.S. in January 2017 from my hometown — Bangalore. Over the years, I have learned how to deal with moving far away from family, friends, and home. The first time you are dropped off at boarding school, obviously like any 12-year-old kid, you miss your siblings, parents, friends, sleeping in your own room at night, being pampered and enjoying the other comforts of home. The first night away from home went decently smooth, mainly because I knew my family was still in town and they were leaving only the next day. The second night was the night I broke down at the dinner table. Handling countless situations like this, the teacher at our table tried to calm me down. Things got better as I started to get busy with school, made new friends and found new places to invest my time in. The first year was still hard nevertheless; I’d always count the days until we would get to go home as soon as the semester started. Within a few years, I had gotten so attached that I had started to call that place my second home.

The only reason everyone looked so happy is because we finished our last 10th-grade board exam

After 10th grade, my parents wanted me to come back to Bangalore so that I could focus on my career path. Moving from a boarding school to a day-school was really hard. Those friends and classmates whom you used to share classes, bunk-beds, and meals all year round were suddenly no longer in your daily life. The schedule balanced with co-curricular activities, sports, and academics suddenly became one that was 100% academics and required an immense amount of studying. My world took a 180° turn; that campus that used to be occupied by 700+ students suddenly became a small founding batch of 25 students sharing a whole campus that was still under construction. I still remember the first day after school; I came home and broke down questioning how I ended up in that place. The first few months were really tough and I had to deal with the fear of missing out. Eventually, things got better and I had other things to focus on. As the academics got more demanding I had to keep up with all the expectations set for me.

Fast-forward to when it came to going to a college that was even further away in a place I had never heard of before, things were much easier. You always feel bad the first few nights, but it gets better with all the experience you have after being away from home for so long. I opted for a program at Manipal that gave me the flexibility of completing two years of my undergrad in India, followed by a transfer to a university abroad to complete my degree. It was understood the day I started that program, that 2 years down the line, I would go abroad, and it would obviously be more than the 8-hour bus journey from home that I had been used to. Like any well-trained independent kid, I was ready for all the pain that would follow. I knew I would make really close friends who would go all over the world by the end of our 2nd year. It was understood that I would make friends from the normal 4-year program at Manipal, whom I would miss when I left.

Manipal’s main building at 3 A.M

I was completely prepared for all the situations I had foreseen at the time. To be honest, moving to Chicago was not that hard at all. Okay, I’m lying; I must say I was definitely unprepared for the -15°C weather I encountered stepping out of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport—both mentally and physically. On the bright side, the numbing cold weather was trumped by the fact that I was so excited to experience a new country as a college student and was ready to start grabbing those opportunities that would bring me closer to my dreams. Besides, I had two of my really close friends from Manipal around, studying the same course. They made 14,000 km away from home seem like nothing. Just like in boarding school and in Manipal, I used to fly to Bangalore every summer and winter break.

Chicago was absolutely great! I reunited with snow, met new people, made new friends, tried new food, and enjoyed all the things that are taken for granted in a developed country. In my last semester in college, I dropped a part-time job that used to take up 20 hours of my week, to overload myself with 7 courses so that I could graduate with honors. Like any college student in their last semester, I was also aggressively job hunting at a time where even major corporations weren’t hiring international students in the fear that immigration laws could change at any given moment. The job hunt deserves another post so I will save that story for later.

As an international student, I was to avoid leaving the U.S. after graduation unless I had a job offer and was going to start working within the next 90 days upon graduation. Leaving the U.S. without a job at this point, risked re-entry. After having spent so much money going to school in the U.S., I couldn’t leave. To be honest, that 12-month stretch was the longest time I had ever been away from Bangalore. I have friends who haven’t been home in several years, and I do not know how they have the emotional strength to do that.

Home for Diwali after being away for over a year.

During that time, my brother finished his 10th-grade board exams and was preparing to come back to Bangalore. Just like my experience, I completely expected him to go through the same emotions when switching schools, which he did.

I’ve been away from my younger brother for quite a while now. When I came back to Bangalore from boarding school to complete my 11th & 12th grade, he was off to boarding school. By the time he was done with boarding school and it was time for him to come back, I was stuck in the U.S. waiting for my work permit. My mom, dad, and aunt would call me and tell me about all the troubles he was facing and how they would try everything they could to cheer him up. They would tell me about how he started losing interest in things he used to love doing and became more reserved. As bad as it sounds, it was even more painful to hear from the other side of the world. Suddenly, you forget about that bad interview, that fight you had with a close friend, that bus you missed and that terrible meeting you had to sit through.

Suddenly, all your problems seem so small, worthless and completely insignificant.

At that moment, I knew they all needed me. I knew I needed to be at home and give all the support I could possibly give. I needed to be physically present because there’s only so much talking one can do from so far away. Like I mentioned before, I couldn’t afford to leave the U.S. during that time. I know countless others are or have been in the same situation. Maybe they couldn’t be around after a family member passed away, maybe they couldn’t attend a wedding, maybe they couldn’t give that special someone a hug when they went through something traumatizing or life-changing.

Yes, it really does suck.

A few months ago, a really close friend of mine went through a traumatizing experience. Clearly, this person was disturbed and needed to be around good people to build back some of that trust. It was killing me to hear about that event and the struggles after. The fact that I couldn’t be there to give this person something as small as a hug as a reassurance that there are people who care, that we’re all in this together, and we will all work hard to get through this chapter was heartbreaking. There were so many times — including this one — that I would just wonder if all of this living abroad business was worth it and would have the urge to give up on chasing that dream and just go back.

What’s the point if you can’t be there for your family and the people you care about when they really need you?

This is one aspect I never thought about or prepared myself to deal with before I came here. All the articles online about going to college abroad usually mention things like having to adjust to the culture, food, imperial system *cough*, and high cost-of-living to name a few. In my opinion, that is the easy part. The actual challenge is dealing with the distance and all the emotions that come with it. Sometimes people try to make me feel guilty for moving so far away by telling me how easily I left and forgot about them or about how I don’t have time for them anymore. One day, they too will experience all this and then hopefully they’ll understand. Like I mentioned, I know there are many of you who have realized the same thing or have felt the same way. All I can say is, hang in there, it’s absolutely fine to be upset. There are loved ones who are unconditionally rooting for you, are proud of you for having all that emotional strength and they all know you are always a video call away.

— MB

Comment below if you’ve faced a similar situation or have felt the same way. I have so much more to say about different experiences and situations I mentioned in this post. I’ll try to make this part of a larger series and try to keep writing about my stories and observations. As a newbie writer, I’d appreciate your awesome feedback. Follow me on LinkedIn or Instagram to see what I’m up to!

Thank you Sukriti Paul for helping me edit!

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Mayank Bansal

Frontend Engineering | Design | Fintech | Freight | Logistics | Immigration | Helping build finance solutions for freight carriers @Outgo ! Ex-Convoy 🦄,