Home away from home
Home away from home
Read the stories of Internationals and how they found a home away from home.
Author: Vania Octaviani
When the pandemic struck March of 2020, the world went into chaos. Perhaps gradually at first, nation to nation, but chaos ensued nonetheless.
Countries were closing borders to foreign travellers, heavy lockdowns were imposed, and the news covered an endless, back-to-back stream of rising death tolls and infection rates. Life as we knew it changed drastically.
Living solo in Melbourne with an extended history with anxiety, I just couldn’t bring myself to whisk up a Dalgona coffee or film a cringe-y TikTok dance during the first lockdown. Reaching out to some international friends here in Melbourne, they seemed to be struggling, too — mental-health issues, financial problems, or the drastic career changes. The many challenges that came with the pandemic made life… unbearable, even, for some international students… and being away from the comfort of their home didn’t make it any easier.
We’re lucky, though. Restrictions did ease, people listened.
Amidst the chaos and confusion, I tried escaping the routine life I’d succumbed to this past year by finding new things to do, or rather, rediscover old favourites here in Melbourne — visitations to Brunswick’s vintage finds were made, hidden cafés were brunch-ed, and I developed a newfound appreciation for old heritage sites.
Me at an antique store in Brunswick
Initially, these activities could be boiled down to mere ‘coping mechanisms’; but the eventual outpour of activities and stimuli lead to one final conclusion: that I had fallen in love with Melbourne. And post-chitchats with friends, I found that other international students had fallen in love with the city, too.
Bong’s Melbourne-journey began October 2019 with his pursuit for a degree from Deakin University. He joined Deakin’s summer program, a quiet period for the university, so Bong found himself highly-anticipating the hyped-up bustle of the coming academic semester’s official commencement… then the downwards spiral began.
A week into orientation week, the Victorian government announced a state-wide lockdown.
All campus activities were to be conducted online.
Two weeks later, Bong’s sole housemate returned to Malaysia, and so he found himself alone, in his Richmond apartment, for the remainder of the year.
“I didn’t have physical human interaction at all. Malaysia was locked-down so going back home wasn’t a viable option,” Bong says, clearly exasperated. “The only thing that kept me sane was a structured, daily routine. Wake up at a certain time, study, cook, and do end-of-day workouts. The grocery store’s a five minutes walk away, so I daily grocery-runs were made to get some fresh air.”
During Quarantine, Bong signed up to the Malaysian Society at Deakin in an attempt to stay busy and be around people from home. When restrictions eased, they drove to the Grampians, the Pink Lake Reserve, and a lavender farm to enjoy regional Victoria’s insane sceneries and get away from the city.
Bong at the Grampians National Park
“As an outdoorsy person, exploring Melbourne’s natural sceneries is something I love to do! After the lockdown ended, I also made finding work a priority.” He commented. “I was eventually hired as a restaurant staff at QV. It gave me something to aim for and it has helped me financially. Overall, I’m grateful that I chose to stay here and for the friends I have made.”
Gabriella Fannia, 21
Gaby is a final year communications student at Monash University. Usually, summer break’s dedicated to flying back to Indonesia and spend Christmas with family back home. This year proved different: Gaby spent her holidays here in Melbourne, thankfully with friends (who were equally as stuck here), but unfortunately, without family.
“It took a lot of adapting. Even mundane things… studying, working, and buying groceries were done differently — almost all of my plans changed. It was like a domino effect. But this situation forced me to learn something new,” she says.
If there’s one thing that Gaby found herself most grateful for, it’s the fact that she’s residing in one of the safest places (right now, at least!) in the world. Whereas the daily COVID cases spike at an average five-digits-number in Indonesia, Melbourne is community-cases transmission free, or recently just spiking at a max of 3 cases, that of which is contained.
The freedom Melbourne provides allows Gaby to explore new places and express her love for photography with a liberty unknown to many places across the world, especially back home in Indonesia.
Gaby at the Jawbone Marine Sanctuary
“People who get homesick tend to dwell on things they can’t have. There are so many things to do in Melbourne, so I just focus on finding new experiences that I won’t find [in Indonesia]. I avoid Indonesian food because I know the taste just won’t be the same! That’ll just make me feel worse.”
The view at the Jawbone Marine Sanctuary
Gaby’s advice for other international students? “You just need to get out of your comfort zone. Don’t dwell on your normal habits because honestly, normal habits in our world don’t really exist anymore.”
Jane Young, 24
Jane is in her final year a Master of Arts program at Deakin University.
When Victoria imposed its first lockdown, Jane quickly accepted the fact that travelling back home to Malaysia or visiting her other family members in New Zealand was not possible. She mainly focused on solving her struggles with online classes.
To cope with the situation, Jane also participated in online Zoom sessions and events arranged by the Malaysian Society at Deakin. She played games like Among Us and was introduced to other Malaysian students in Melbourne. Post-lockdown, Jane finally got to meet them and even arranged a Christmas party together.
“My strategy to surviving this is to enjoy the little things and focus on my mental health. I find that surviving during the pandemic is such a huge feat for many people, so taking care of my health, be it physically, mentally, or emotionally is my #1 priority. I also take time to hang out with my friends and enjoy what is available with them,” she shares.
As an art lover and enthusiast, Jane often visits the art exhibits, museums, and galleries in Melbourne. One of her favourite places is No Vacancy Gallery — located in QV Melbourne — as they change up a lot of their pieces.
A sculpture at the NGV’s Triennial Exhibition (@janevermore)
Besides that, Jane also loves going for brunches around Melbourne or just staying home to delve into her painting hobby.
Brunch at the Old Man Drew Cafe (@janevermore)
Some of Jane’s recent works