Home is Where the Heart Lies

Lia Paw (International Student at Furman University)

Hello everyone, my name is Lia Paw and I am an International Student from Myanmar (Burma). I am a Sophomore Student at Furman University, studying Neuroscience Major on Pre-PA track.

I arrived in the United States on August 11th, 2020 for my Freshman Year. Like any international student, I spent my short breaks on campus and was patiently waiting for the long summer break. But all of my hopes were washed away when COVID hit.

Furman shut down its campus in early March and all of the students were sent home for their safety. But for students like me, who are foreigners, the campus became our home. Other International Students, including me, were placed in different dormitories all over the campus for quarantine. Our online education continued, fortunately, but it was quite isolated and lonely as we were spending 24/7 on our own. The school gave us food supplies and cooking materials to prepare our own meals. Every day was the same and for some time, I felt forgotten by everyone as my friends’ sudden departure from school felt like an abandonment. After two months living on campus, my other international friends started leaving for their home countries, as the travel ban was lifted. That included two of my good friends from Johannesburg, South Africa. I could not leave as my country still had its travel ban. Not wanting to be alone, I decided to do a homestay at my mom’s close relatives in Jacksonville, Florida. I did not know I had relatives in Florida until my mother told me about them in late April. So, I flew there.

Although I was very grateful for having some company in Florida, living at someone’s place was very challenging. Not being able to cook, go out, explore or do any other thing without my host family’s permission became very frustrating. During my stay there, I drowned myself with a summer online course and a full-time online summer internship from school. That was my escape. And just like that, I turned 20 in Florida, far away from my family. After 2 months of living in Florida, I ended my stay and was able to stay with another host family in Akron, Ohio.

My host family in Ohio is very friendly and generous. They treated me like their own and helped me get my Driver’s Permit. Although I did not have enough time to get a Drivers License, I was content with the experience. I stayed 3 weeks in Ohio and moved back to Furman to resume my education.

Moving back to campus was difficult at first for me because it reminded me of the unknown days that Covid brought. But, I pushed myself and did everything to adjust to college life again. As time moved on, my social life started looking up. Academic wise, homesickness took a toll on my performance. But looking back now, I can confidently say that I did my best using the resources I had.

It has been a year and a half since I last saw my family. But I know that no matter how far we are, we are thinking of each other and praying for our reunion. I want to let people know that while staying at home is hard, not knowing when you will return home is harder. So please, be grateful and make good use of the time you have with your family. As for me, I cannot wait to see mine in the near future.

-Lia

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