Most, if not all, of us aspire to go abroad, even though very few of us know what we want to do once we are there. Most people think that as soon as they would land on foreign soil, they would find themselves in heaven, but that’s not always the case.

With me, the case has been a little different. I spent my childhood abroad, so when I planned to study abroad, I expected something similar to that experience, or like my experiences of travelling abroad to attend conferences, workshops and training courses where everything had been pre-arranged. Of course, I was wrong.

A home is like a shell: warmth, protection and care all lies within it. This we realize when we are away from home and also from our homeland. I have been engaged in academic writing since my student life, but this is the first time I am writing something personal, and sharing my own experiences – to be honest, it is a bit tough; it is hard to decide what to share and what not to.

Anyway, I was talking about the homeland. When it comes to personality types, I am something of a hybrid – not completely desi “paindu”, but definitely not the opposite. Like most “desi paindu” people like me, whenever I travel, I carry a big bag full of my luggage. The reason? I really don’t know. Maybe I feel more comfortable and confident in traveling that way. A kind gesture that I receive from other Pakistanis, especially at the airport, is that they always help me with my luggage: they pick it all up and simply ask, “Baji kahan le kar jana hai?” (“Sister, where does this have to be taken?”). Desi politeness – one thing that I miss a lot when I am abroad.

I am not a miser, and I am not against living a fashion forward lifestyle, but having limited funding, I decide to take my clothing along. I found out that most of them were out of fashion when I repeatedly found myself dressed up differently than others in gatherings, and the rest of them were not appropriate for the weather. Nevertheless, I used them all, expecting that people will be more forgiving towards scientists for being poorly dressed up, and accept me in a cheap, woolen, layered leather coat tailored for men without looking down upon me, unlike in Pakistan. In foreign countries, it is the work that you do that matters and it is humanity that is valued.

Waking up has been a big challenge for me, but thanks to our flat-mates – who knocked the door softly enough not to break it, but hard enough to wake me up – it is possible for me to have breakfast and catch the transport in time. The next challenge was shopping: converting Pounds into Rupees makes everything extremely expensive, and that kept me in fear of overspending.

Once while heading out from the lab, I met a batch mate who was carrying several bottles of fresh milk on his cycle. While talking to him I came to know that those days he was only on milk. I thought that he is too poor to buy food, but later on I came to know that he does not know cooking and hence he is mainly relying on milk for his diet.

I chase food and food chases me. My favourite place to dine out is the dhaba, an open air restaurant set in traditional style having people sitting on thakhat (carpeted tables) near the beach that offers freshly prepared desi food. What I love about eating at the dhaba – other than the taste – is the comfortability of the ambiance, which is very casual, laidback and desi – like me.

Once a departmental lunch was arranged at a restaurant. The organizers circulated to find out what the diners wanted to eat. I wanted to taste a variety of food so I ticked several dishes. The food was very tasty but it was followed by a big surprise – I had to pay my bill like everybody else, and that I had ordered too much food and there was no option for takeaway. Saved a penny at the cost of many.

Another problem that we face living abroad is that there is rarely anybody around to guide us or to prevent us from committing any serious mistakes.  Once I opted to pay six month’s rent together to my landlord by cheque, because he offered me 10% off on total amount. After a month or so I received a letter from my bank informing me that a pay in slip (very similar to cheque), instead of cheque, was accredited from my account and for which I had to pay 30 Pounds as penalty. And then a few days later I received an e-mail from the landlord asking me to pay the rent – with a penalty for late payment. If someone would have been around to give me a heads up, I would have been saved a lot of money.

Once of my colleagues who was living with her grandmother invited me to visit her. I got a good gift for her from a nearby market but I could not find anything reasonable for her grandmother. After prolonged searching, I found a tasbeeh – beads strung up on a thread, used for praying by Muslims – with wooden beads, at a reasonable price that she could use for her prayers.

I had a really good time with them. However, we lost touch, and after a while I tried to contact her but she did not respond. I wondered why she chose to avoid me, and I received the answer when while walking through the campus, I saw a dog wearing a string exactly like the one I gave her grandmother. I am known for making blunders, but this was up there with the biggest ones I have ever made.

Making blunders reminds me of another incident. I love cooking desi food but not on electrical burners – a skill that I acquired during my stay at the UK. Since I am a very family-oriented person, on weekends I used to cook food and invite my friends over. Once at a dinner party, I noticed that the guests, after helping themselves to the food, finished it hurriedly and left quickly after dinner, praising the food that kept me happy – until I tasted it myself. It was extremely spicy! So much that even drinking pints of water could not put out the heat. Much like the memories of my time spent in that foreign land – hundreds of days have passed, but have been unable to make me forget my memories, both fond and otherwise.