Coming of age during a pandemic
This is the summer when I will be turning twenty. I didn’t expect to be spending yet another birthday under pandemic restrictions, but here we are.
As I spend my final days of my teenage years in my family home in Indonesia – which is where I’m from – my mind keeps turning towards memories of my childhood and the realisation that I’m currently at the age that I was fantasising about when I was a kid. I am currently studying English (my favourite subject) at my dream university in London, and I am about to start my final year soon. It almost feels as if I should be having the time of my life. Yet, I keep asking myself – what am I doing with my life?
The past year and a half has been a wild ride to say the least. Coming back to my suburban hometown for the summer; surrounded by the same old neighbours, park benches, and malls. But what I found is that I’m not the same person as the naively ambitious girl who grew up here.
Due to the pandemic, I’m grateful to be surrounded by my family and sunshine, and I’ve surprisingly found comfort in domesticity and nature. I’ve spent time this summer gardening, going on hikes, and cooking for my family.
So, looking back at a version of my past self pre-Covid, who went out clubbing and rebelled against my parents, feels so different.
It’s a funny thing to be an international student. I sometimes feel as if my sense of identity is split into two: a part of me loves the independence of my life in London, but a part of me also misses the comfort of home.
Having gone back in preparation for my final year of university has been so crucial in helping me reconnect with my family (whom I haven’t seen in a year because of the pandemic) and also reconnecting with my hometown, and observing the beautiful trees and flowers surrounding it.
Focusing on spending time with family and more mindful activities like walking around in nature convinced me that I am building a more sustainable life for myself. Yet at the same time, staying with my family means that I’d have to follow along with whatever they’re doing and live under their roof. I’m placed under the same condition as when I was a teenager, but this time after spending time abroad, my sudden loss of independence feels even more startling.
Living through yet another lockdown in Indonesia while the UK finally comes out of lockdown restrictions gives me a wistful feeling of regret. Throughout the year shifting between going to university abroad and coming back home has placed me in a feeling of constantly wanting to be somewhere else. When I’m in London, I miss home; and when I’m at home, I miss the life I had in London and wish I was there instead.
Seeing pictures of my friends living their best lives in London on social media while I find myself once again stuck at home also makes me feel like I’m missing out on life. Having grown up with social media, I’ve only realised the harmful effects of social media once I decided to take a break from it; how it makes me compare my own life to other people’s idealised versions of theirs and how it makes me feel pressured to perform my own life and identity for the enjoyment of others as well.
Ultimately, I realised that my tendency to escape the present is mostly influenced by social media, as it constantly makes me feel inadequate compared to others and that I should be living according to other people’s values.
I’m currently going through a lot of changes in my life – with my final year of university starting soon and graduation a looming shadow – but ironically my life feels completely stagnant. Due to lockdown restrictions, I haven’t been able to go out and see my friends who are also going through a similar journey.
It’s also always sunny here, which means that there are no seasonal changes to mark the progress of time, and therefore it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the days from each other. I’ve been staying in my hometown for the past four months now, and the time I’ve spent here feels both incredibly short and long at the same time.
Yet even though I feel stuck under the same routine, the truth is that I’m faced with a crossroad in my life right now. Suffering through a loss of independence while staying with my family made me realise that I need to start taking charge of my own life, and that I do have the power to do that.
For most of my life, I’ve gotten used to following what other people tell me to do. But now that I’m about to lose the safety net of university, I realised that I do have agency over my own life, and that I can’t keep on waiting for opportunities to open up to me.
Having gone through waves of lockdowns, witnessing political instability and rising climate change, I feel anxious about the kind of world that I am entering as an adult. It’s strange to go through a pandemic and still be expected to study and find work like nothing’s wrong.
I had a conversation with my friend about what’s going to happen in the future, and she told me that she’s convinced that we’re all going to die in five years; first because of Covid, and later on because of climate change.
“I’m dead serious,” she says. “I’m not joking.”
I’m still trying to hold on to a shred of hope in this chaotic world, but a part of me does share her sense of existential dread. After all, growing up in a world that is ending as we speak is incredibly paradoxical and dreadful.
Yet through all this, I’ve found that I can live my life for myself. Getting older as the world burns down, it dawned on me that there really is no point in trying to accomplish things for the satisfaction of others or due to societal expectations.
I used to believe that my life should just be all about getting good grades, going to a good university, and getting a good job; since that’s what is expected of me.
Yet seeing economic and social systems crumble as the pandemic wreaks its havoc, I understood that there is no point in dedicating my life to serving a system that has no concern for my livelihood.
I’m still searching for who I want to be, and the question of “what do I want to do?” looms as I grow older, yet now I choose to just take it day by day.
I don’t really know whether I want to be a successful writer living in the city or build a family at home; but right now just writing short articles, spending time with my family, and sitting on the front porch absorbing the sunshine feels pretty good.