Falling Back

It’s been exactly two months since I’ve been back in the states. I have since found it unnervingly easy to fall back into my old routine here at Penn. I still go to bed around 2 am despite my resolve every morning to be in bed by midnight. I still frequent PAACH to nap in the back room with that really comfy tan pillow. I still procrastinate on studying by re-watching my favorite movies.

But some things are different now.

I go on a run every morning. My body complains when I roll out of bed, but I’ve found myself looking forward to that sliver of time I can claim all to myself. I don’t feel the need to constantly surround myself with people I’m not particularly close to. I make an effort to talk to my parents at least once a week instead of once a month. I’ve been trying hard to eat healthily and consistently. I’ve been trying hard to be happy.

Amy and I spent our 10 weeks trying to improve those migrant women’s lives by taking the health route. That’s my whole reasoning behind my desire to go to medical school, and this summer simply reaffirmed it. I loved being able to talk to people on a personal level, despite whatever cultural barriers we had. I saw firsthand how powerfully knowledge could have an impact on someone’s life, even if it’s something as small as knowing carrots are good for one’s eyes. Even though I still am skeptical of what we actually accomplished, it was good to know that we were able to reach these women in some capacity. But a healthy body does not necessarily guarantee a healthy mind, and I had initially wanted to focus on mental health this summer. We gave them bananas and iron tablets and basic health & nutrition knowledge, but is that what truly mattered?

After India, I flew to Viet Nam to meet my mother. It had been nine years since we’d been back. I was too shy and detached from my culture to really appreciate being back nine years ago, but this time was different. I made up my mind to go back so that I could really get to know my extended family and explore my homeland. My mother’s sole purpose was to see my 83-year-old grandfather whom she quite possibly might love the most of anyone in the world. I mentioned in an earlier post that my mom didn’t feel particularly happy or at home in the states, but even I never could comprehend what that actually meant until this trip.

My mother, who is normally a quiet, reserved woman, completely came out of her shell. She engaged everyone she met, and she smiled and laughed more often than I can remember ever since high school. My mother, who I’ve only ever seen pick at her food, actually had an appetite. She was the one who took charge in ordering at restaurants instead of shaking her head at every suggestion I would make in an effort for her to eat something. She was the one dragging me and my grandfather out to the markets, eyes lighting up at the fruits we could never find in the states or at the shoes that she could finally find in her size.

It’s so strange to have lived with someone for 21 years and think that you know them pretty well only to discover a completely new person in the course of two weeks. I had never seen my mother so happy. It makes me sad that she gave up this happiness for a chance at a “better” life. What makes one life better than the next? It made me wonder about the migrant women workers. They left behind friends and family for some semblance of financial security and stability. Was it worth it for them? Perhaps it was something that they felt had to be done, just like how my mother felt about leaving Viet Nam to give us more opportunities in the states. But it really begs the question of what’s truly important and of how the balance between responsibility and fulfillment can be achieved.

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