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I am the younger sister of someone called Phaya. I’m not a fan of his nickname, but it’s what everyone prefers to call him. People often ask if having my brother with me abroad is enjoyable. I would say yes; I don’t have to introduce myself to anyone, and many know me because of him. I can ask him anything, and he guides me on what to do and where to go.

However, responding to the same question, I would say no. I could explain that having a piece of home with you abroad isn’t always enjoyable.

Am I independent enough? Does flying alone and living abroad make you an independent person? Perhaps yes, perhaps no, because “I have a brother with me”.

It was two weeks before my flight to France. Phaya texted me, asking if I was excited. I said no; in fact, I was questioning my decision to study abroad.

A few days before my flight, I knew no one would send me off at the airports. No farewells, hugs, or kisses. Growing up in the ‘Land Below the Wind’, it is common that even a domestic flight from Kota Kinabalu (KKIA) to Kuala Lumpur (KLIA2/KLIA) cost more than an arm and a leg. You might question if you accidentally booked a seat on a spaceship instead of a plane. And of course I didn’t want my family to spend a fortune just for a goodbye hug.

As my family bid me farewell at KKIA, I felt a heavy emptiness as I wandered around the empty airport alone. It wasn’t until I entered the gate, and their silhouettes vanished into distance, that the weight of their absence hit me. Upon reaching KLIA2, my elder brother fetched me and took me to grab a lunch with my uncle, a comforting pause in the midst of the emotional farewell. After lunch, he sent me off to KLIA, 8 hours before the flight. Once again, I found myself wandering around the airport alone. 

I didn’t question why no one was there; I had seen everyone’s Instagram posts of their family and friends. Mine were conspicuously absent, but I understood their attempts at being present. They were, and I knew. Although the absence of my loved ones made me upset, I was touched by the unexpected concern shown by the family of my friend. I was rummaging through my laptop bag when Huda’s mom grabbed my arm and persuaded me to join them for a family photo. 

Skipping ahead, I finally landed in France, and there he was – my brother, patiently waiting for my arrival. With unwavering kindness (of a brother), he not only assisted me with my luggages but also accompanied me to the grocery store and meticulously checked every corner of my studio. The extraordinary part? He had traversed all the way from Orléans to Nice just to extend a warm welcome to his sister. Yet, as soon as he bid farewell and the door closed behind him, an overwhelming torrent of emotions engulfed me. The floodgates opened, and I found myself unable to contain the tears. While I had experienced bouts of homesickness in the past, this time, the ache was more profound. 

For a relentless fortnight, I couldn’t sleep with all the merciless ‘what-ifs’ haunting my head. What if I had chosen a school near to his city? What if I studied engineering like him and lived with him? What if I had opted for a local education? The weight of these unanswered questions pressed down on me. Well, going back was impossible, so instead of seeking solace in the familiarity of home, I found myself longing for the piece of home that I have in France, which is Phaya. 

For the first and second week, while adapting with the croissants and pain au chocolats’ environment, Phaya consistently messaged me and asked about my well-being. I am grateful that everyone here has been very welcoming, kind and generous. A very friendly guy called Arif Arman took us to explore Nice, guided us on what we should do and many other things were made easier with his help. 

A month later, Phaya suggested a program in Paris. We reunited, and it felt like home for two days. I felt the warmth of having someone who grew up with me, but the joy was short lived. As we hugged before parting, I fought back the welling tears. Crying in front of my family is something I abhor, the thought of them perceiving me as a girl who is not independent enough is something I dreaded. When I was sure he was not turning back, I held my friend’s arm, Dina. She noticed that my eyes were teary and let me cry on her shoulder. I posted some pictures of us in front of the Eiffel Tower, and received several messages from my close friends, admiring our ‘siblings goals’ and expressing how fortunate I was. Their words made me pause and reflect, realizing that perhaps I am the one who was a bit ungrateful and overly sensitive. 

After I arrived in my studio, the internal struggle continued. The ‘what-ifs’ echoed in my mind again. However, unlike before, this time the weight lifted sooner than expected. In a matter of mere days, I found the strength to move forward and move on.

Balancing independence and dependency is exhausting. People often assume, ‘She has a brother,’ ‘She doesn’t need to worry much,’ ‘Her brother can help her.’ But little did they know, we are actually 900 kilometres apart. I once even heard that if not for my brother introducing me to everything and everyone, I would not have been known by most people or participated in any events. Yes, I actually agree with that, and that’s why I am forever grateful for having him. 

A lot of people experienced leaving their homeland with farewells, hugs, and kisses from their loved ones, I didn’t. But not many people experienced what it felt like to arrive in a foreign country welcomed by their brother, I did, and I am forever grateful for that. While everyone had their home waving at them, I had my home waiting for me.

So, replying to the same question: Is it enjoyable having a brother with you abroad? Yes, absolutely. 

As a younger sister, I love having a piece of home with me abroad.