As Muhammad Syakir, 25, hopped on a one-way flight to the U.S. from Malaysia, he did not immediately register how draining studying as an international student could be at Fresno State.
With cash in one hand and luggage in the other, he exited the arrival gates of Los Angeles International Airport with heart-trickling optimism, as he was ready for a fresh start away from home.
His initial few months in Fresno were that of the American dream from an international perspective. Sipping on In-N-Out milkshakes, going to his first tailgate, getting a glimpse of Bulldog Stadium at full throttle on the weekend; even the sheer size of the grocery stores in the U.S. left him in awe.
The euphoria he felt from all these new experiences made him feel so alive. It felt great for him to be away from all the attachments and responsibilities back home, as he began this new path of independence and self-growth 16 hours away from Malaysia.
The chaos of life back home stopped, and it almost felt like he was at peace with life around him.
But homesickness hits its hardest in silence. And before he knew it, he was engulfed in its tight grips.
“It felt like getting hit by a train all of a sudden. I don’t know how else I could describe it,” said Syakir.
This is a running theme for most international students. The longer they spend in the U.S., a lot of them, including Syakir, begin to actively grapple with the reality of homesickness after the dust of adrenaline settles.
Fresno State students living far from home said they share the same prickling feeling of homesickness.
Prabal Angrish, 21, said he yearns for the comfort and safety of home back in India as he continues to pursue his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Fresno State.
“I do get homesick a lot, but it hits hardest during Indian cultural festivals or birthdays,” Angrish said.
“It has been three years since I have done that with my family. And it does bring me a lot of pain when those days arrive.”
Back home, Angrish shared these celebrations with loved ones, during which time they would eat the best food, dance to loud music and celebrate like it was “their last days.”
“I don’t have that anymore. And when I reminisce about those carefree days back in India, it brings tears to my eyes,” Angrish said.
Syakir, who is currently doing a double major in physiology and kinesiology, feels the same loss as Angrish.
“Yes, it goes without saying that I miss my friends, family, the food, the culture. However, there is nothing I miss more than the familiarity and accessibility of being back home,” Syakir said.
In Malaysia, he was always allowed the luxury to go out and do whatever he wanted to do, whenever he wanted. He knew the best places to eat, had his unique hangout spots and was in touch with the people around him.
But here in Fresno, Syakir feels he is not “allowed the same freedom.” A lack of connection with his surroundings has left Syakir more reserved.
For these Bulldogs, missing the people around them is just one part of homesickness.
“In Korea, there are so many things in our culture that I miss taking part in. There are 24-hour gaming rooms. If I wanted to, I could drive out late at night and just relax with my friends. There are late-night karaoke venues. I just generally feel so free and safe back home,” said Yuna Ko, 24, a Fresno State junior majoring in accounting.
Ko said the weather in South Korea is one thing she dearly misses in particular. When spring takes over, the beautiful cherry blossoms that begin to bloom never fail to mesmerize her.
“I used to always stroll along Korean streets that were just sprouted with these natural beauties. The seasons of Korea are just something to behold. I miss it. I really do,” Ko said.
Homesickness may leave these students’ minds wandering into dark places, but what grounds them in the present is the reminder of what initially brought them to Fresno State.
Many come overseas for a bigger cause.
“When the sadness settles and the logic comes into play, I always remind myself that I am not doing this for myself, but for my family. I came here to set myself up for future success,” Angrish said.
Angrish dreams of one day growing successful enough to ensure his family can live the carefree life they deserve.
It was no different for Syakir, as he explained what’s kept him motivated through the hardships
Syakir highlighted the importance his father plays in driving him toward success.
“All my life, he has been nothing but patient and caring with me; he has played such a pivotal role in the man I am today,” Syakir said. “Yes, of course, I get homesick. But I always remember why I came here – to make my father proud. And if I can succeed here and achieve that goal, then that is more than enough for me to keep pushing forward.”
Despite initial gloom, Ko shared Syakir and Angrish’s optimism for the future.
“At the end of the day, I came here to grow as a person and to achieve my personal goals. I want to graduate knowing I did my best. And above all, I want to set myself apart from my peers,” Ko said.
“And if homesickness is something that comes with these goals, then that is what I have to learn to overcome for the better.”