From Distant Lands
Almost 9 percent of FDU’s attendees are international students, from all corners of the globe, and their homesickness can be especially daunting. Mednick runs an annual orientation workshop for new international students; afterward, many of them tell him how difficult it is to be far from home in a place where the cultural norms, food and even the time zone are so different.
But international students usually find ways to adjust while retaining their culture and traditions, he says. Gerardo Nunez, a junior from Quito, Ecuador, who lives in the Lindens, treasures his Otavalo souvenirs. The Otavaleños, indigenous people who live in the highlands near Quito, are world-famous for their weaving, leatherwork, textiles and simple wooden toys. His favorite keepsake is a carving of a fisherman complete with movable fishing pole and string attached to tiny wooden fish. “It’s interactive — you can play with it,” he says.
Nunez also has figurines of Otavaleño women carrying baskets, symbolizing the region’s agricultural harvest. The handicrafts “remind me of home, family and friends,” he says.
When Nunez is asked if he still misses Quito and his family — his parents and two younger siblings — back home, he readily agrees. “This is the first time I’ve been away for such a long time. The first semester I was here, I missed my family, my house, my pillow, my dog, the weather.”
Even well-traveled students who are as comfortable in New Jersey as they are in Europe or Southeast Asia sometimes need a reminder of their cultural and family roots. May Taw is a senior biochemistry major and a resident assistant at her Linden residence hall. Her parents live in Indonesia now — her father worked for the United Nations, and she has lived in Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam — but she was born in Burma (now Myanmar). Her comfort object is a carved, black lacquer jewelry box from Burma given to her by an uncle who had it inscribed “So you’ll never forget home,” in Burmese.
“I got it when I was around 11 years old,” she says. “It’s the kind of thing that they make in small villages, and it has a picture of women working in the village.” Because she left Burma as an infant, the box is more important for its family connection than as a memento, she says.
Similarly, Zoë Ogilvie treasures a family heirloom, a hand-carved rosewood jewelry box that she associates with the Brisbane, Australia, farm where she lived as a child. The box was passed down from Ogilvie’s grandmother to her mother and then to her. Her parents like to travel; the family left Australia when Ogilvie was 5 and moved to Indonesia, back to Australia and then to the Middle East. Six years ago, they moved to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, the source of other treasures in Ogilvie’s room at FDU: an Arabic tea set, a small prayer rug and a brass lamp that reminds her of Aladdin’s.
Ogilvie, a junior who is active in student government, the campus newspaper and Business Leaders of Tomorrow, says the objects remind her of family and travel, but not necessarily of home. “I’ve moved around so much that home for me is a relative term,” she explains. “Home is where the people I’m closest to are. It may sound funny, but I think FDU is my home now.”
Athos Vardouniotis, a junior from Athens, Greece, has close relatives who live in New Jersey and New York, which helps keep homesickness at bay. He also has a battered blue notebook full of reminiscences and jokes scrawled in Greek and broken English by his high school friends.
“Friends of mine wrote ‘goodbye’ stuff in it, caricatures of themselves and our professors. It reminds me a lot of life back there,” Vardouniotis says. “If there were fun things said in classes, we wrote them down. It’s something to remember high school by — they don’t really have yearbooks there.”
He also carries family photos with him and brought some Greek books to FDU so he wouldn’t forget how to read his native language. “But I avoided bringing too much stuff from home, because then it would be a constant reminder to me,” he says.