Going abroad for university can be an exciting experience — settling into a new country, immersing oneself in its culture and meeting new people who could become lifelong friends. It can also create a longing for the home left behind — especially if loved ones back home are experiencing hardship.
Here are the stories of two UBC international students whose time in Canada has led them to reshape their definitions of home.
Dictionaries often describe home as a place — of residence or of origin.
For third-year master’s of computer science student Shayan Hosseini, connecting with home is about connecting with the people important to him: his family, close friends and colleagues in Iran.
Hosseini began using technology to connect to family back home when both distance and the pandemic separated them.
“I came here in the middle of a pandemic. So just having Zoom calls, video calls was the normal thing of [those] days.”
Social media has also proven a useful tool for keeping in touch. “It’s impossible for me to see them in person,” said Hosseini. “So, the only way I have is the online way.”
But even then, the distance has also taken a toll on his relationships. “I have almost [a] 12-hour time [difference],” said Hosseini. “When I’m sleeping, they’re active, and vice versa.”
And distance isn’t always necessarily physical. “The things that you have in common are from the past. You don’t make new memories together, you don’t deal with stuff together right now,” he said.
This is further exacerbated by the ongoing unrest in Iran. Protests erupted within and beyond Iran in September 2022 following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iranian morality police while in custody. In addition to violent crackdowns on protests, the Iranian government has since implemented censorship in technology, making contact with loved ones much more fraught and difficult.
“WhatsApp got blocked. Instagram got blocked. It is very difficult to connect with my friends and family,” said Hosseini.
At first he found a workaround and bought VPNs for his family members and some friends, but then, restrictions escalated.
“At some point, no messaging app was working, so I had to email my family. One day my mom sent me an email with the subject line ‘greetings,’” said Hosseini. “It sounded weird to me, because we have never used emails for daily conversation and it was [a] very last resort thing that you can do.”
Beyond the censorship itself, Hosseini has also experienced a sort of balancing act, trying to keep up with the news back home, while also trying to live his life in Vancouver — an experience he describes as “dual living.”
“I have a living here, and I have virtual living in Iran as well ... you [have] to spend like 10 hours to follow up with this stuff that [is] going on there.”
Hosseini has since taken a step back from social media and begun focusing on advocacy work he can do in Vancouver.
“The minimum, the very basic thing is participating in the rallies that are in Vancouver, like every week. I do participate in them as much as I can.”
Hosseini has also previously given a presentation at the computer science department titled “Women’s Movement in Iran” which reviewed the living conditions of Iranian women in the past 40 years and previous uprisings.
“I guess that’s the very minimum thing that I could do for them ... it might not necessarily help the people back there, but at least I feel better about myself that I’m doing something.”
Third-year linguistics and psychology student Khushi Patil moved to Vancouver in 2021 from Shenzhen, China. Having divided her life between her birth country of India, China and now Canada, Patil struggles to define what home actually is.
“When I hear the word home, it’s an immediate conflict in my brain.”
Patil believes the meaning of home can be fluid — it does not necessarily have to be a physical place, as it can also be a sense of belonging and connection.
Since she moved to China with her family when she was three years old, she has developed a love for the country’s food.
“When I’m really feeling homesick, I get on a bus and go to Richmond — that is my escape route.”
At UBC, she has found comfort in the International Food Court, where she orders the food she craves, in Mandarin. Patil often receives shocked reactions to her fluency in the language — even at the Chinese Students’ and Scholars’ Association (CSSA), where throughout online schooling she managed to find community.
“[The CSSA has] massive group chats with people, so I felt very connected with that while I was in China. I went to some of the socials and over there, it felt quite natural,” Patil said.
However, in Vancouver, Patil no longer felt as comfortable in the CSSA as she did back in Shenzhen. “As someone who doesn’t typically, or stereotypically fit in, it didn’t exactly feel right.”
Instead, she managed to find community with friends from a similar path of life.
“One of my other friends — she’s like me. She’s from India, but she spent a lot of her life in Singapore and another bit of her life in China,” Patil said. “And that’s what we bond over. One of my other closest friends was born and raised in Hong Kong. So, we all speak in Mandarin, go to Richmond, eat our meals, sometimes cook together.”
For Diwali, the celebration of life and the new year, Patil had friends from different countries over to celebrate. Preparing for the event, she filled her house with lots of food and handmade sweets. “I felt like I was embodying that cultural spirit in this foreign place,” she said.
Patil connects to home by keeping up with her parents and brother on a regular basis, and learning to create the foods of her culture(s).
“What I eventually settled on is home is where my family is.”
Khushi Patil is a staff writer at The Ubyssey. She was not involved in the writing or editing of this piece.