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    How I Literally (And Figuratively) Found Myself In A Different Country

    Sydney may have put me farther away from home, but it has definitely put me closer to myself.

    I decided to apply for a master’s degree in Sydney on a whim.

    Isabelle Laureta / BuzzFeed

    2017 was a bad year for my mental health. My anxiety got to the point where I had to play Netflix in the background as I slept just so I could keep the bad thoughts away. It was especially frustrating because nothing was wrong on the surface. I had it good in the Philippines—a loving family, good friends, a job I love, and a substantial amount of money in my savings account.

    And still, I felt so bad about myself. I kept blaming myself for things that were out of my control. I started fucking up my relationships with my friends and loved ones. I did the bare minimum. I hated myself for it, but I never actually did something to be better. I pushed people who love me away. I thought so little of myself that I didn’t believe there was a single thing about me that was worth loving—no matter how much they tried to convince me otherwise.

    I didn’t know what went wrong. But somewhere along the downward spiral I constantly found myself in, there was always this brief moment of sanity. It was a voice that kept saying I had to change something if I wanted to get through this alive.

    Studying abroad had always been at the back of my mind. I just didn’t act on it because I thought I wouldn’t, in a million years, have what it takes to make it happen. But on a totally random October afternoon, I started searching online about how one can study abroad. You know, just to check it out. Maybe this was what I needed.

    They say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And I knew the moment I hit that search button, as my heart trembled the way train tracks do as the engine rushes in. This is it. This is gonna be the tastiest motherfucking lemonade I’ve ever made in my entire life.

    And then I got to the nitty-gritty part: application.

    Isabelle Laureta / BuzzFeed

    After deciding which course to take and which university I wanted to go to, I made an appointment for a consultation with an educational agency. All the steps I had to take and fees I had to pay all became clear to me. The necessary requirements were all standard—college diploma, curriculum vitae, transcript of records, a two-page essay stating why I wanted to study in Sydney, and the bank statements of whoever’s sponsoring my education to prove that I have enough dough to live and study in Sydney for the duration of my course.

    Isabelle Laureta / BuzzFeed

    If you did well in college and were born into a wealthy family, the last bit shouldn’t be too hard. But I wasn’t. Both my mother and father were born to a family of farmers. Sure, we’re in a financially better place now, but we still didn’t have enough to fund not just my tuition fees, but also my living expenses in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Also, I only received average grades in college, which meant scholarships wouldn’t go crazy after me.

    But it’s amazing how the universe sometimes works: how it rewards you with things you probably don’t think you deserve and how it puts you in the same spaces as people who would—without question and without asking anything in return—help you along the way.

    It was my mom who suggested we get help from my uncle, an electrical engineer who works as a shift supervisor at a hydro operation in Liberia. He came home to the Philippines the week I was getting serious with my plans and I went with my father to fetch him at the airport. The whole ride back home, I was mustering up the courage to ask him the biggest favor I ever had to ask in my life. But I didn’t get to. It was too much. He just had a long flight. He was probably tired. I couldn’t.

    Until my mom blurted it out at the dinner table. I froze. My uncle laughed. My mom laughed. I kept a straight face. “Sige,” he said right away. “Of course!” My tears fell just as quickly as he said it. “Make tatang proud,” he added. My grandfather. He had always been proud of me when he was still alive.

    It all finally became real, and I started preparing for the move.

    Isabelle Laureta / BuzzFeed

    I remember, back when things weren’t definite yet, we went to the mall and I saw this olive green jacket with faux fur lining around the hoodie. I thought it would be really cute to wear in Sydney during winter. I tried it on. It was perfect, but it was slightly out of my budget. So I walked out of the store and convinced myself I didn’t need it. It was clearly not a jacket you could wear in the Philippines and there was a great chance all my plans would turn to shit.

    We walked around the mall some more. Had coffee. Checked out the bookstore. The whole time I couldn’t take my mind off that gorgeous jacket. “Fuck it,” I thought. I walked back in, bought it, and felt stupid right after walking out. I could have returned it. The old, unhinged me would have. But I was trying to be a better person who practiced self-love. And if it means buying a ridiculously expensive jacket, then so be it.

    And thank God I did. Because the day after I submitted my visa application, I checked my phone and saw a missed call from my agent. I called back. She picked up the phone. I didn’t even manage to say hello. She took a long pause and said, “Your visa is here!” Every fiber of my being felt just one thing—gratitude, not only to everyone who supported me, but the whole crazy force that somehow made everything fall into place. My heart wasn’t just trembling like train tracks now. It was exploding like the big bang—creating a new universe full of possibilities I never thought I’d have the will to look forward to anymore up until that day.

    There are still times when I think I don’t deserve any of this. I’m sure there are a hundred other people who are more entitled to this than I am. But I think back to those days when I just felt crippled by my own mind, and I’m immediately convinced that yep, this is still my lemonade. And I’m taking a fucking sip.

    I arrived in Sydney and felt… calm.

    Isabelle Laureta / BuzzFeed

    I was extra fidgety on the eight-hour flight from Manila to Sydney. I couldn’t even focus on the movie I was watching even though Ryan Gosling looked hot as a badass police replicant in Blade Runner 2049. Probably the only reason I fell asleep was that of the gin and tonic I ordered from the cabin service trolley.

    But when the plane flew over the Harbour Bridge as it was about to land, I felt a particular kind of calmness. Like how one feels when the warm water hits their skin in the shower after a stressful day, only a thousand times better. Joe Hisaishi’s Reprise was playing through my earphones. I checked my phone. 6:21 AM. 6/21—my birthday. I looked around. There were no cameras. I wasn’t being pranked. It was real. And it was happening to me. Finally.

    I have never felt that calm in a long time. I remember feeling weird about it at first. I used to freak out on any minor inconvenience or big changes. I should have been freaking out. But I wasn’t. There were tons of things to worry about, as you do when you move alone to another country. But it was okay. Because I felt like I’m finally where I’m ought to be. I fought long and hard. And I am here. I am okay.

    I connected to the airport wifi. One of the countless messages that came through was from a dear friend. It was a long one, but this line got me: “I hope you find something to hold your breath for, to close your eyes at and wonder if it’s real, because you deserve it.” And I think I did.

    I made mistakes and felt glad I did.

    Isabelle Laureta / BuzzFeed

    When I was waiting for my checked baggage at the airport, it took me about an hour to realize I was waiting at the wrong carousel. When I finally got to the correct one, they already took everything out, so I had to track my 40kg baggage down the airline counter, making me almost miss my ride to my residence.

    The first time I rode the train home, I got off at the wrong stop and had to walk from there to my destination. I had no idea how to ride the bus. That took me about one hour of walking at 3 P.M. under the summer heat.

    One morning, I was greeted by burnt rice because I stupidly left the rice cooker plugged in overnight.

    But I wasn’t even mad. It was the first time in a long time that I laughed at myself and at the things I put myself into without an ounce of hate. Self-love is something I have been struggling with for the past year. But I am all I’ve got now, and I need to get along and be comfortable with myself if I want to use my time here as planned. Sydney may have put me farther away from home, but it definitely has put me closer to myself.

    I realized I still got what I thought I’d lost.

    Isabelle Laureta / BuzzFeed

    “When was the last time you felt genuinely happy?” a friend asked me some time before I came to Sydney. I racked my brain for answers. Nothing. There were nuggets of happy moments, sure. But even then it all felt fake. I’d laugh when there was something to laugh about, all the while telling myself, “Look at me! I’m happy! I’m happy, right?” I’d laugh harder, as if to try to compensate for the void I had deep inside.

    I thought I’d be relieved, but I only felt worse when I gave her an answer: It was back in college. I was stressed out of my mind. But the happier moments then were unquestionable, probably because I knew that I was gonna succeed in the end. And yet there I was, four years out of college and still not having achieved even half of what I had expected to.

    I became too hard on myself. I thought I’d lost that side of me who does whatever she wants and not feel guilty about it. I thought I’d lost that person who can chill and not feel like she’s missing out. I thought I’d lost that person who gives herself allowances for mistakes and who let herself to just feel things—even negative ones.

    I’d laugh now, and do exactly just that: be happy. It’s not because the void magically disappeared, but because I finally learned to forgive and love myself again even though I have no idea what I’m doing half the time. I may fuck up a lot of things in the future, but being alone in a new city hasn’t only taught be to develop a braver heart. It also taught me to have a more tender one, not only for others, but more importantly for myself.

    I witnessed my growth and realized how much of an adult I can be.

    Isabelle Laureta / BuzzFeed

    The first time I had to be away from home was in college. I was 15. I cried the whole first week away. Fast forward to today, and as of this writing, I have already spent more than a month in this place. I have only cried thrice because of homesickness.

    This doesn’t mean I don’t miss my family and friends any less than I did then. This probably just means that I trust myself more now than I did before. I trust that even though it’s a pain in the butt, I budget my money well and buy only the essentials. I trust that, even though I’d rather stay in bed on the weekend, I can cook sinigang for lunch, wash dishes, and do the laundry instead. And most importantly, I trust that even though being far away from home is hard, I will be okay. I can adapt, grow, and bloom where I’m planted.

    I realized my worth through others.

    Isabelle Laureta / BuzzFeed

    Ever since I got my visa, people kept telling me how proud they are of me. I never took it seriously. Why would they be proud? I only passed some documents and got lucky. It also took me a long time and a few drinks to make sense of the fact that a lot of my friends and family made an effort to give me a proper send-off. These are people I don’t talk to on a daily basis but have, somehow, touched their lives enough that they actually care about me and my achievements.

    “If you could only see yourself through our eyes, you won’t feel shitty about yourself,” a friend told me during one of my send-off parties.

    I know how mean we can be to ourselves. We can achieve so much and still feel like sinking into the deep and dark ocean of self-loathing. But it’s amazing how we don’t even realize that there are actually so many people willing to lift us up and take us back into the shore. I may not have enough money to send myself to Sydney on my own, but I got myself a treasure that’s worth a thousand times more.

    I finally learned to be proud of myself.

    Isabelle Laureta / BuzzFeed

    On the morning of my flight, my mom came up to my room and woke me up with a wail. I almost wanted to back out. What the heck did I get myself into? My mom was right to cry. How could I possibly live alone in a foreign city where I don’t know anyone? I don’t know anything! Before I left the Philippines, people would ask me if I have somebody going with me. I’d say no. They’d be shocked. I’d be scared and think I definitely made an absurd decision.

    When people ask me the same thing now, they’d still be shocked. But instead of being scared, I’d be proud. I’m still afraid of so many things: failing a class, getting lost, going broke, or forgetting to tap off my Opal card when I get off the bus. But even if these things happen, somehow, I know I’ll be okay. I already got myself as far as where I am now, and I am surviving. I am making new friends. I know my way around. I do my own chores. I have an office job in the city. I don’t live on instant noodles alone—much to my mother’s delight. That’s a pretty fucking big thing to have been doing.

    I never thought I’ll ever view myself this way and still feels weird to finally be proud of myself. But it is a good place to be. I am doing my best. I am still learning. But I am finally in a good place to be.

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