By Jerrica Kuan; Edited by Zoe Wei

“Second-year international offshore students are returning soon.”

The time is too early in the morning (or too late at night). You are an offshore medical student, waking up for class in a time zone that stays the same, for a country whose time does not. 

Time. Such a fickle conception that allows us to comprehend what awaits us still and yet the limited life that we have. There is something about the pandemic that makes you fear that this finite time is being wasted in: in lockdowns, in fear, and everything else it throws at you. Though perhaps it is trivial in the total years you will have, it sure does not feel like it with the monotonous routine of online class. It is never too early to have a mid-life crisis when you do not know the end of your life. 

The sun has not risen as you turn on your computer and log in, as you have done for nearly two years of your university journey (so many missed opportunities). You speak to friends across lands and seas (so many unfamiliar faces but familiar names). You talk about the things you would do once you are together, reunited, with every long distance friendship you make (so many things to do, so little time). There is envy when you see your classmates meet for labs and hospital sessions, for social gatherings that allow them to leave their home, though unfortunately that was also short-lived. You are not lonely, you have plenty of people around you, but you still feel left behind. 

Time! Another switch of the seasons and you are back to following another time zone. It confuses you, how someone could say that, yes, we have an extra hour in the day because of the light we get, and everyone would agree. It forces the notion that time is just a social construct. Where does time end and time begin? Where do we count time from? You wake up an hour earlier for class.

The uncertainty is killing you. You used to plan your future so clearly. Now, you live day by day waiting for the other shoe to drop, the news that could lock you inside again or the news that you can finally return and meet everyone. You cannot foresee what will happen anymore, not like before when a pandemic could not stop all your plans. There are too many questions that need answers, that no one can provide. There are things to do that cannot be done. Maybe you just need a nap, you have plenty of time to think about it anyways. Right?

Then the shoe drops.

You get to go back! Everyone you know celebrates when finally there is good news, something set in stone that you can expect. You are excited, a little nervous, but you can start feeling like a uni student again, able to return to class and campus, join societies and clubs, attend events in person instead of a screen. No more will you be training to be an ‘online doctor’ (“Trust me, I can diagnose you but only on Zoom”), you can actually call yourself a medical student. There are still a lot of questions left unanswered, still things to do, but this is a start.

Then it sets in that you will have to leave home again, and probably not return until things settle (and who knows how long that will be?). Will this be the last time you see your loved ones before you have to stay in another country? The date for your return is set for December, before every major holiday of the year’s end and year ahead, which means you will be spending it away from them. Not that you are not excited to return, but you will miss even more at home. Graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, funerals. Missing out on more things again, wherever you may go.

Time. It is inevitable to miss something somewhere. We all have our own lives to lead and our own paths to forge through. Whatever time zone we may be in. You will miss people from around the world. You will meet more, too. Maybe the good part of being offshore is the realisation of how connected you are to people beyond your home country. Despite everything, you are still attached to people. Maybe the real treasure was the friends we made along the way. It is a silly meme, yet it rings true. No matter where you go, you have people around you, no matter what happens. Soon, you will no longer be offshore. And time will make sense again.

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