The semester started last Wednesday, with a full blast of freezing wind and snow at a constant -19 degree celsius, and weather reports telling me it felt like -30 degree celsius. Surprisingly, the weather hadn’t been bothering me that much. It has come a long way, but my body has finally acclimatized to the Michigan mood-swingy weather.

Similar to weather, my emotions were a whirlpool of sorts. There is no pin-pointing to any specific detail or event – it’s a whole mess of anxiety, excitement, stress, and disappointment. Roughly a week before Finals began, my mom informed me that my grandfather has benign tumours in his kidney and she was flying back to China to be there for him during his surgery. The time I managed to catch my mom on skype was when she was hurriedly packing to fly off so we didn’t talk much. Anxiety was all I felt in my tummy. I wasn’t sure if it was from the nervousness of finals, or the nervousness for my grandfather’s surgery. Probably both. Benign tumour is a good thing. It was caught early, could be excised and everything would go back to normal and hopefully that was the end of the story. This thought always haunts me: that one day, I would receive a call from 9500 miles away that someone I love was dead. I know it’s silly, but it’s an irrational fear that somehow implanted itself at the back of my brain. Anyway, my grandfather is fine now. The surgery went smoothly and hopefully for the next few check ups, there won’t be any signs of benign tumor, malignant tumor or metastases of any kind.

Coming from a biology class in Junior college, many of my friends are in Med schools around the world. One of my good friends in Germany told me about her experience with death and how it confronts you about your mortality. How usually, the dying patients led decent satisfying lives and are ready to go, but it’s the family members who couldn’t let go. How, during the most turbulent times, it’s family who will always be there, rain or shine, with unconditional love.

And then I learned that my parents may not have enough money to pay for this semester’s school fees. U of Michigan is an expensive school. International students pay around $22,600 in tuition fees and that’s not including rent, health insurance and living allowance. There are no scholarships and financial aid for us because it’s not a need based school, and Ann Arbor (a major college town) has surprisingly high living costs. Michigan, according to Turman, is also the “third worst state in the country based on five metrics — tuition, state appropriations average, average burden on families, financial aid for students and higher education as a priority in the state government”. In his first year in office, Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s administration cut higher education funding by 15 percent in 2011 and gradually increased it over the years, but is still allocating $1,500 less than national average per student (Truman, Michigan Daily).

I knew finances were tight when I was a little girl growing up in Singapore and I was taught to be frugal, to work hard so that I could get a good job and not worry about money in the future. Brought up in a tough love kind of environment with no discussion of emotions, I used to secretly despise them for not caring about my emotional well-being, for not asking about my life, for being too harshly judgmental and the teetering-on-broken-family arguments . But for the first time in my life, I was truly grateful to my parents. I know, deep inside my heart, that my parents would never let me drop out of school. They would beg, borrow, or steal to make sure I complete my education because having a bright future and a good life is all they want for me. And I sit here sobbing my eyes out, because I’m guilty, for totally failing last semester; I’m stressed, because I don’t want to let them down; but mostly, I’m touched, for all of their sacrifices. It is so hard for these words to leave my mouth: Mom and Dad, I love you, how are you really doing, and please take care of yourself. A wise girl told me that I’m now a part of the adult family dynamic and I am also responsible to mend the family and hold it together. I still don’t have the courage to say those words yet…They should know, I really hope they do.

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