A Temporary State of Life

5 minute read


Forefront: From the decease of a relative to immigration uncertainties, this personal essay was my thought process after a sleepless night following the decease of a relative and uncertain news about immigration restrictrions. Writing has been therapeutic for me since lockdown. I having been keeping a handwritten notebook and just recently published this blog. I could never imagine my first blog post to be full of uncertainties and bad news. However, there are good insights that I want to share with recent international student graduates. I want to acknowledge many friends who have been trying to keep me sane and talking to me. It has been a tough ride.

Flying Through the Storm by Doodles N' Dabbles

A distant relative whom I knew since I was a kid passed away two days ago. I got the news through my mum’s laconic text: “We are going to attend Auntie X’s funeral.”

Auntie X lived with us for a few years to take care of my brother and me while my parents were busy with their new ventures. In my memory, she was this firm, cooper-skin, 5.5 feet tall woman who was just a few years older than my parents. She led a tranquil and sustainable life in the countryside before living with us. She was simple and credulous. All things considered, she was happy and healthy.

Auntie X was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer just three to four months ago after suffering chronic back pain. The disease enervated her, and eventually took her life. My parents visited her a few weeks after she got discharged from the hospital. “I could not imagine how bad her situation was when I saw her,” said my mum. “She is only five or six years older than me,” she continued. I had butterflies in my stomach after I learned how little time it took since the onset of Auntie X’s cancer until she passed away: My parents are in that age group and also have chronic conditions.

In Vietnamese culture, it usually takes an extended family to send off the deceased. Ideally, I should have been at the funeral yesterday. Nonetheless, Auntie X took care of me for a good few years.

Ever since I have come to the U.S., I have grown distant from my family and relatives, much to my regret. An uncertain and stressful adulthood of an immigrant kept me away from other important aspects of my life, including my family in Vietnam. I missed my grandmother’s funeral in my freshman year due to final exams. I wasn’t there to support my dad when he locked himself in his room and cried constantly for three days following her demise. I could not even come home the subsequent summers to attend her annual death anniversary. I was constantly taking on internships as I had to prove myself worthy to the nation I only spent the past five years living. Unfortunately, or fortunately, these five years were so crucial as they largely influenced my personal values and foundation of support. It will be hard to leave those behind, probably much harder than when I left Vietnam five years ago.

There are countless sacrifices any immigrants have to make. Above all, it is only fair for everyone to contribute their shares to the nation they wish to be a lawful citizen. The question really is, is it worth it?

I am currently in a temporary state of life when it is somewhat similar to a patient waiting for their potential diagnosis of cancer. I knew how that felt, because four years ago I was misdiagnosed for a form of cancer. In a few weeks, I will hopefully know the state of my “current life,” the life I have been living for the past five years in the U.S. ( Some background information: This WSJ article talks about some potential restrictions on immigrants, including those on student visa and its work program.)

That is being said, I am thankful for what those five years have taught me. I have become more independent, especially financially. I used to be a 17-year-old girl who snuggled up in her mum’s bed when stress from competitive olympiads kept her up at night. Instead, I have gradually grown into a friend my mum could depend on. The distance between my family and me, on the other hands, helped my hardcore Asian parents learn to accept certain boundaries and treat me with more respect. However, its detrimental effect, my lost sense of belonging to my family, is there to stay.

Unlike a cancer patient, I have something to gain from losing my “current life”. Above all, this five-year adventure has shown me how resilient, smart, and compassionate, I could become. I can start a new life again in my country, this time, with my family beside. In the end, Vietnamese family values still stay with me, buried under fears of uncertainties and stress from competitions. I am optimistic that a sense of belonging can be regained, though with lots of challenges.

In the end of my thesis acknowledgement, I wrote:

Although there are many uncertainties in the near future, I feel fortunate to have been part of the MIT community, and now a soon-to-be MIT alumna. The past five years at MIT have shaped me into who I am today. No matter where I will be after MIT, I am inspired to bring my knowledge and skills I have learned here to contribute to a great good in the world.

Indeed, there are many uncertainties in the short term. Under these circumstances, it is unproductive to react to the unknowns. I have found it much more useful to focus on the long-term goals and values while planning for different scenarios. Therefore, I have decided to stick to my plan as much as I could while patiently waiting for my “diagnosis.” This plan includes:

  • enjoying every single second with my boyfriend and friends
  • graduating from MIT
  • taking the GRE
  • applying to deferred MBA programs
  • (temporarily on-hold) looking for a new place to live
  • starting my first full-time job (still going as planned though can be affected by the potential immigration restriction)

I looked up to the mentality of Thuy Muoi - a cancer patient who spent her last few years making lives of many other cancer patients better. Even if I only have a few months, or even weeks, to live my “current life,” I would live it to its fullest.

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