Have you ever heard of Newport, South Wales before? Probably not. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the first time you had heard of Wales was in a recent conversation about our crushing defeat against England in the World Cup. (It was definitely rigged.)
Whenever I hear the word “Wales,” my heart races. My eyes begin to tear up. My mind is flooded with a slideshow of memories: an endless view of green mountains, evenings laughing with my friends, speaking Welsh in school. While a montage of memories fills my mind, it is often accompanied by a stadium of football fans (or soccer fans, for you Americans) screaming the national anthem, providing a strangely aggressive—yet comforting—soundtrack to my nostalgia along with other childhood hits from “Calon Ian” to “Sospan Fach.” I hold these memories so dear to my heart that I wear a Welsh Dragon bracelet around my wrist reminding me of our flag and the resilience and power it represents.
So, while you may have never heard of Newport—and though your Google search may not paint the most picturesque view of the city with all the headlines of crimes—I consider Newport to be one of the most beautiful and complicated places on Earth. It is powered by working-class people and acts as a home to a diverse group of people. With this comes a myriad of individual struggles, from poverty to gang violence. Because of this, many people dream of moving on from the place. But for me, even after moving to America, the memory of my home city is not one I wish to rid myself of. Instead, Newport is my inspiration.
Preserving my culture in an alien environment is my number one goal. No matter how many Welsh words I teach my American friends, every morning I am reminded that I am no longer in Wales. With each step I take into the “Yale Bubble,” a cocktail of pride and guilt rushes through my body. As a FGLI international student and the first from my high school to even apply to an American college, navigating Yale occasionally feels impossible. I like to describe it as being a captain of a ship with no experience, but in fact that ship is a plane and you are actually not the captain but a baby who has just achieved object permanence. Yet you are still expected to journey safely through the Bermuda Triangle while hundreds of people place their trust in you. In less dramatic vocabulary, Yale is unchartered territory. This has catapulted me into a limbo of emotional yearning: while longing for the comfort of Newport, I am striving to experience as much of the Yale world as possible.
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving break, my excitement to go home grew. But, as I sat on the plane, feeling the anticipation of the engine as it warmed, I felt emotionally paralysed by excitement and a deep fear about my current place in the town that I once called home. Would my friends think that I’ve turned into a snob? Would I view my home with different eyes? Worst of all…what if I had picked up an American accent?!
To my relief, as soon as my feet touched Welsh land, I was engulfed in a tornado of hugs, tears, cheeky nandos, and chippy teas. I basked in the joy that came with spending a week around my closest friends while watching far too many episodes of Gavin and Stacey.
Between moments of intense joy and laughter, I could hear the whispers of financial hardship: the fear of leaving the central heating on for too long and the fight to cling onto hope in what for many is a truly gray time. Even in moments of hysterics with some of my closest friends, there was a silent acknowledgement of our collective fear: would we be the ones who “make it out of Newport?” Did we even want that reality?
To some the Yale Bubble is represented through the weird way that time passes here. For others, it represents the stress that comes with growth. For me, and many FGLI students, the Yale Bubble is a place where the next meal is never questioned. It is a simple place where all of the “real world” anxieties are removed in order to allow all of us to thrive academically. A place I am grateful to be but one I refuse to be disillusioned by.
Going home filled my heart with joy. But it reminded me of the reality of life beyond campus, of everyday struggles beyond the paper due in three days, and the bravery needed to survive in a system that was never designed for you to thrive.