Hello readers //
This post is going to be about the other side of being an exchange student.
In the (now many) months I’ve been here, I can no longer count how many times I got the question. Yup. “Are you homesick?” “Don’t you miss America?” “Do you miss your family?” “How can you stand to be so far from home?”
Okay, to be fair, that’s technically more than one question. But when you get down to it, they’re all the same. People want to know how badly it hurts to be far away from your home, your family, your friends, and everyone you know. Of course they do. They’re just curious, particularly those who have never been away from their families or homes for longer than the span of an average beach vacation.
Here I sit, in the bed I now consider to be my own, after more than seven months abroad. By now, I rarely, if ever, experience real homesickness. Well, right now is falling into that ‘rarely’ category, because I’m wearing a turquoise blue shirt. Yup. More specifically, a turquoise blue shirt printed with big, white letters that say LORAS COLLEGE, sent to me by mail from my family back in the United States. It’s a nice shirt, though I’m not altogether too likely to wear it out and about much (sorry Mom and Grace). Tonight, I decided to wear it as a pajama shirt. I was about to put it on when I suddenly wondered if it had that cool New Shirt Smell. I raised it to my nose and - big mistake. It was like walking through the front doors of my parents’ house. It smelled like home. And more importantly, I didn’t realize home had a smell until the turquoise shirt told me so. I stood there, eyes closed, deeply inhaling though a turquoise shirt at 9 P.M. Like a total maniac.
The thing about homesickness is that it’s not some sort of constant ache that underlies everything I do. I’m not just going about my daily business thinking, “I wonder what my parents are doing right now,” or, “How much would these Oreos cost in America?” or, “Could it be raining right now in Wisconsin?” Just, no. Maybe I somehow expected it to be like that, because it seems to be the most common portrayal of homesickness in movies. But, the fact of the matter is, I’m far too caught up in my day to day activities to really care what’s going on “back home.” It’s as simple as that. When you’re sitting at lunch, listening to friends’ stories of their weekends, while helping a different friend with some English homework, while ALSO thinking about how you hope it doesn’t rain when you’re biking home from school today, there’s just not much spare room in your brain for entirely irrelevant thoughts of home.
As I have demonstrated with the turquoise shirt example, homesickness is most likely to strike when your guard is down. For me - and not uncommonly, I should think - this means at nighttime. When all the day’s activities have died down and I’m left with more room for wandering thoughts. It’s usually something small and unexpected that manages to find just the hole through which it can wriggle in.
When homesickness hits, I often find myself with a seemingly incurable case of boredom, where I simultaneously want to do absolutely nothing and absolutely everything, yet all the options for the things I could do seem endlessly dull. I find myself thinking of a number of entertaining things I could do in the U.S. that are (conveniently and without exception) largely unavailable in Denmark. This usually means hanging out with my friends in Wisconsin, or going somewhere specific to my hometown. Sometimes, I even just miss attending a normal day high school.
Some people assume that to be homesick, it must mean you don’t like where you are now. In my case, this is definitely untrue. I love being in Denmark, and I hardly ever have a dull day here. As a matter of fact, I believe that loving where I live now only compounds the homesickness. It’s because, on top of the wistfulness of missing things from home, I’m also faced with the painfully obvious realizations of the things I love about Denmark that I won’t be able to take back to the States.
Homesickness is bittersweet. It has managed to increase my affection greatly for my hometown, my friends, and my family (distance makes the heart grow fonder) while also filling me with longing for days that came and went and can never be come and gone again. In a way, I know I’ll never go back home. Because the home that exists in my memories is made up of so much more than people and places. It’s made of moments, and conversations, and sensations, and scents, and personalities, and emotions. All things that aligned perfectly to form my home. A formation I was a part of.
The ‘home’ I get sick for is nothing more than a freeze-frame. A portrait of my life as it was when I walked out of it. Herein lies the problem. Making your home in a moment means you’ll never get to go back there. People change, conversations can never be relived, moments come and go and fade, and everything that once fell into a ‘perfect’ order drifts apart. Unfortunately, that’s just the reality of life.
If I had never left for Denmark, my definition of home would have been constantly evolving to keep up with the changes, as everyone’s does if life moves slowly enough for them to keep up.
However, I did get on that plane, and what I took with me was a definition of home which is, by now, seriously outdated, and will never exist again.
Is the greatest pain of homesickness.