I’ve been back home for four weeks now. This post has been a long time coming, but I haven’t had the heart or bravery to write it yet. At some point, I will go back and include photos and stories from my parents’ visit, my eastern tour, and my cousin’s visit. I will do it over the next few weeks because I don’t want to neglect that until I start at university next month. If I wait until then, the stories may never come.
I knew coming home would be difficult, but I didn’t anticipate how exactly. On the late night of July first, I texted my dad to tell him I was set to go and then followed up with “I feel exactly like I did when I was leaving Ohio. This is so hard.” I said my goodbyes to my host family and Naciye drove me to the airport at 3:00 a.m. I checked myself in, paid my excess luggage fee, and wandered around the airport until my gate was listed on a screen somewhere. One of the security agents looked at my assortment of luggage and remarked I had a lot of souvenirs. I replied with a waver in my voice that I had been living in Istanbul, but was returning home then.
In Munich, a girl who was a few years older than me asked where I was coming from. I said Istanbul and she asked where that is. I explained that it was in Turkey, transcontinental, and had a population of nearly 20 million, when I all I wanted to do was wail, “It was my HOME.” In Chicago, the immigrations agent drawled in his Midwestern accent, “And where were you at? Why were you there?” and I passed through immigrations, finally on U.S. soil. I held myself together fairly well on the journey home, only tearing up a few times without ever crying. However, when I disembarked in Columbus, I looked around at the tiny airport. I remembered everything looking exactly as I had left it. I remembered the sense of terror and the crashing wave of sadness that I wouldn’t see my parents until their visit to see me. I remembered how afraid I was to leave for Turkey, but how ready I was. The memories and all the changes I experienced this year flashed through my mind, and before I knew it, I was walking into the arms of my parents, Rohan, and Danilo with tears streaming down my face.
My parents have been wonderful since my return. When I was having a hard morning right after I arrived, my mom talked to me and explained that I’m feeling grief besides just reverse culture shock. When my family left Australia to immigrate to the U.S., my mom felt like she was leaving her home and grieved the loss of that for nearly a year. She said at the time, she didn’t realize you can grieve for a situation, not just the loss of a loved one. I’m grieving because even though I know I will travel again, I will never have an experience quite like what I did in Istanbul. Though this feeling hasn’t much lessened in my four weeks back, it feels good to understand more why I’m feeling as I do. Kind and well meaning people often ask me, “How was your trip?” and I don’t even know what to say because it wasn’t just a trip. It was my life.
The other day, a friend from my home district shared an article on Facebook called, “The Hardest Part of Traveling No One Talks About.” The article talks about the fact that when someone travels, they fall in love with their new environments, but the struggle lies in returning home. I’ll copy and paste what really resonated with me:
"But the sad part is once you’ve done your obligatory visits for being away for a year; you’re sitting in your childhood bedroom and realize nothing has changed. You’re glad everyone is happy and healthy and yes, people have gotten new jobs, boyfriends, engagements, etc., but part of you is screaming don’t you understand how much I have changed? And I don’t mean hair, weight, dress or anything else that has to do with appearance. I mean what’s going on inside of your head. The way your dreams have changed, they way you perceive people differently, the habits you’re happy you lost, the new things that are important to you. You want everyone to recognize this and you want to share and discuss it, but there’s no way to describe the way your spirit evolves when you leave everything you know behind and force yourself to use your brain in a real capacity, not on a written test in school. You know you’re thinking differently because you experience it every second of every day inside your head, but how do you communicate that to others?
You feel angry. You feel lost. You have moments where you feel like it wasn’t worth it because nothing has changed but then you feel like it’s the only thing you’ve done that is important because it changed everything. What is the solution to this side of traveling? It’s like learning a foreign language that no one around you speaks so there is no way to communicate to them how you really feel.
This is why once you’ve traveled for the first time all you want to do is leave again. They call it the travel bug, but really it’s the effort to return to a place where you are surrounded by people who speak the same language as you. Not English or Spanish or Mandarin or Portuguese, but that language where others know what it’s like to leave, change, grow, experience, learn, then go home again and feel more lost in your hometown then you did in the most foreign place you visited.
This is the hardest part about traveling, and it’s the very reason why we all run away again.”
So, here I am, writing on my bedroom floor sometime after midnight, nearly a month after my return home. Completely random things trigger my suddenly melting into a puddle of tears and I truly feel like a piece of me is missing. It feels strange to come back and to be disconnected from many of the people and places that meant so much to me pre-exchange. But the loss of friendships shouldn’t be solely placed on anyone, because people simply change over time. I’ve been lucky to have some very kind and welcoming friends since my return too.
I think part of my struggle is that I don’t have a strong sense of purpose at the moment as I wait for college to start. I’ve always enjoyed education and learning, so I think school will be a salvation for me. I’ve been spending a lot of time on aimless drives and walks, listening to Arcade Fire and Arctic Monkeys. I haven’t had much to do, but I’m making sure to go to the gym, see friends, spend time outside, and take any reason, no matter how small, to leave the house. The more I stay in and stew over my own thoughts, the more alone I feel. I don’t want to say anything like “Coming home sucks. Everything sucks,” because that isn’t true. I believe that if you seek beauty, you will find it. Athens has a lot of beautiful people, places, and things. But yet, even though my exchange was not perfect by any means, it was the most special year of my life. Goodbye was never going to be easy.
Even though this wasn’t exactly a joyful post to read, it was something I wanted to share. Exchange isn’t always a bed of roses, but it is beautiful. I treasured it for what it was and now I simply aim to look forward, instead of being blinded by nostalgia. Though coming home has been more difficult than I ever imagined, I will always hold my experiences and the people I met in Istanbul in my heart dearly. Now, I must find where I would like the road to take me next.