We’ve all heard quotes about traveling—how it makes us long for cities to which we’ve never been, people we’ve never met, sights we’ve never seen, food we’ve never eaten. I would’ve thought it took more than 4.5 months in a foreign city for it to become my home, but my experience abroad taught me that home really is not where you’re born or what you know, it’s what feels like home.
Lots of college students study abroad at some point. The rumors are entirely true too, you might be able to slack off in your classes, you’ll travel a lot, you’ll learn new things, you’ll develop a love for your abroad city, and you’ll make new friends. But I noticed when I got back, many of my friends who were also returning found it quite easy to adjust to their lives here. Sure, we all had a tricky time reacquainting ourselves with American laws again (mainly the legal drinking age) but for the most part, everyone meshed right back into the old environment at our home university.
I found myself counting the hours to see what time it was in my abroad city. I would think, “If it’s 2pm here, it’s 7pm there.” Then I would find myself wondering what’s happening—who’s at what pubs, what’s happening on campus at my abroad university, or if any of my abroad friends are doing fun things. It is draining to be living here physically, but living there mentally.
People ask me how you can miss somewhere you only knew for such a short period of time. I can’t explain how my abroad city gave me something I didn’t get here—it’s hard to articulate how it felt being so at home in somewhere that started so foreign.
Maybe I miss the fear of being immersed into the unknown—except it stopped being unknown, it became more familiar to me than the city in which I was born. Maybe I miss the opportunities to travel—except every time I traveled to a new country, I missed my abroad city. Maybe I miss the lack of stress from having so few responsibilities—except even on my most relaxing days here, I find myself daydreaming about my busiest days abroad.
Lots of people tell me, “It’s not where you are, it’s who you’re with.” Sure, that’s true. But I don’t just miss the people I was with, I miss people I didn’t have a chance to meet—the locals, the friends of friends, the families who have lived there forever. I find myself missing the way the food tasted slightly different, the accents, the phrases they used to use—I tried to learn these phrases while I was there, but coming back, they no longer make sense here and I have to correct myself.
I’ll find myself comparing here versus there. In my head, I’ll think about how stores close so early abroad, when here, they’re open virtually 24/7. I’ll look at the weather online to see what it is over there. I’ll even look up flights—just to see—how much it costs to get back, even though I have no immediate plan to return quite yet. I bring it up in every conversation in an attempt to share why it means so much to me. Everything I do here relates to things I did there.
I miss the attitudes, the weather, even the smell of the river in front of my apartment that was being drudged. A professor I admire told me he experienced the same thing when he returned from his first long trip abroad; he told me the feelings of sadness, anxiety, and nostalgia toward our abroad cities lines up with all the true feelings of homesickness. The only cure, he told me, is to go back. And go back often.