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October 2017
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Miles Weaken The Bond? NO WAY!

The day before I left Hong Kong for the Netherlands, she looked into my eyes and said: “I feel happy for your new journey, but…” She frowned and hesitated. A second later, she shocked me with her tears, which rolled down to the edge of her wrinkles and reached the tip of her rough, silver hair. “But I don’t want you to leave,” she said, choking with sobs. “I will miss you a lot and I am afraid distance will weaken our bond.”

Now I feel extremely bad, I thought, as I have never seen my grandmother’s tears, I cannot get this scene out of my mind. Although I truly understand her concern, I doubt her words. Doesn’t studying abroad strengthen family bond instead?

Certainly, some students who study abroad think that they feel less close with their family members when they are physically separated. This is understandable, especially for those who are family-oriented. My classmate Ricky, whose family lives in Hong Kong, is an exchange student in Erasmus University Rotterdam. He believed that distances drove him and his family apart. “I don’t feel close with my family when I can’t see them in person, I share less with them,” he said. “It’s such a long time (five months) without seeing my parents.”

Undoubtedly, students who study abroad cannot have close physical connections with their parents (such as giving them warm hugs or cooking them a delicious dinner). However, I think it depends on how people define a close relationship. In my opinion, a close relationship does not mean having physical contact. Rather, it means establishing close bonds mentally and having deep understanding of one another’s life. As a Hong Kong girl studying in the Netherlands, who is sadly separated from my sweet family, I think with the help of modern technology, maintaining intimate relationships with parents who are miles away is easy, and separation can actually result in MUCH CLOSER connections.

John, a friend of mine, is an architecture student studying in Delft University of Technology. He told me that he enjoyed the daily connection on WhatsApp with his parents, who lived in Hong Kong. He said: “I love having daily communications with my parents on WhatsApp (which is usually about sharing little things in life). Every one week, I use Facetime to chat with them.” He told me that he also used Skype for calling relatives who did not have smartphones.

When I asked him whether or not he got closer with his parents when he was studying abroad, he said yes without hesitation. He believed that he got closer with his parents since he tended to share things more often with them when he was not in Hong Kong than when he was there. He said: “I was much busier to meet friends and do entertainment when I was in Hong Kong, as the city was so lively that a lot of different events took place throughout the year. Therefore, I paid less attention and spent less time with my family when I lived with them.”

He said that he spent more time to connect with his family when he was away from his home. “Maybe it’s because I am not so familiar with the environment here, I feel mentally connected with my parents and I think that they are someone that worth relying on and talking to, while others may not understand me so well. This is why we get closer to each other.”

Vienne, who is also studying architecture in Delft University of Technology, agreed with what John said. She admitted that she naturally got closer with her parents when she was miles away from them. “Since I do not get to see them in person, I try to spare more time to talk to them through WhatsApp. I bombard them with lots of photos every day, and I tell them what is going on with my life here,” she told me. “It sounds weird to say that I get closer with them when I am physically not with them, but I do really think that it is a fact.” Vienne believed that she felt sorry for not being able to accompany her parents and also felt thankful to have their support towards her decision of studying abroad, which made her having closer bonds with them when she was studying abroad.

Distance not only causes students to interact more with their parents, but also affects the ways that parents communicate with their children. Rita, a mother of two daughters, told me that she found a better way to communicate with her daughters after sending both of them to study abroad. “I used to have not-so-good relationships with my daughters when they were in Hong Kong. We did not communicate much at home as they did their own stuff in their rooms most of the time. When I asked them a lot about what they did, we usually ended up arguing,” she said. “Now, when they are not in Hong Kong, they always share their lives with me, and at the same time, I share my life with them too. I realize that distance changes the way I communicate with them, as I used to ask them a lot about their lives without sharing mine.”

Rita said she was amazed by how close she and her daughters got after allowing them to study abroad, she felt extremely great. “Strangely, we get closer when we do not see each other, it is totally out of my expectation.” She told me with a broad, sweet smile.

But of course, some parents may disagree with my claim. Clara, my mother, was one of them, as she told me that she needed to see me in person in order to make a close mother-daughter relationship complete and real. “Miscommunications may occur when I cannot talk to you face to face, I need to see you in order to feel close with you,” she said.

Sadly, she can never convince me.

Family Huddled Around Laptop --- Image by © Simon Marcus/Corbis

Family Huddled Around Laptop — Image by © Simon Marcus/Corbis

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