No One Wants To Talk About Homesickness

No one wants to talk about homesickness. We avoid the subject because it feels misleading. It creates an impression that we are not having the time of our lives. We are. It sneaks up on you, lightning on a sunny summer day.

There’s no real way to describe it—only to experience the shock that comes from seeing a piece of art, discovering a new facet of your host city, or from simply eating a porchetta sandwich that calls to mind the pulled pork barbecue of home. It’s a punch to the gut, a wave of sudden and utter loneliness. At home, you know how to act in social situations.

At home, you speak the language. At home, you aren’t constantly guessing how to behave, what you are ordering, or what the sign in front of a shop says. And at home, you are surrounded by your people. You are nestled in a comforting cocoon of friends and family that you love.

“Homesickness” is a misnomer. You don’t miss the physical place of home nearly as much as the people that are “home.” You don’t miss driving down Highway 20 with the windows down and the radio blasting through the speakers. You miss the person in the passenger seat.

Another thing we inevitably fail to discuss—or even recognize—the marvelous experience that homesickness is. Suddenly, you have this deeper appreciation for your comforting cocoon of home. As students, we all experience this aching appreciation at one point or another, in one way or another. We are in individual cycles and unique stages of homesickness. The beautiful thing is that we experience it together. We have experienced that knife to the gut. We know it absolutely does not mean that we aren’t having fun. We know that there are good days and there are bad days. We know that sometimes talking about home is cathartic, a cooling downpour during a hellishly hot summer day. We know because we have been there, gazing out at our incomprehensibly vibrant and complex world, knowing the experience could only be improved by one slight alteration—the presence of the loved ones we left at home.

I turned twenty today. I am far away from the family and friends with whom I traditionally celebrate. I spent all summer bracing myself for a birthday that was going to be filled with homesickness, loneliness, and a table for one. To my delight, I had friends who went to dinner with me. To my continued amazement, these people, most of whom I had known for a week, seemed genuinely thrilled to celebrate with me. Towards the end of our meal, the waiter came out with a chocolate cake with a candle stuck in it. I hadn’t told anyone at the restaurant that it was my birthday. So, I looked around the restaurant to see who else was having a birthday. To my befuddlement, my friends started to sing. I lost it. I turned redder than an Italian tomato and joyfully teared up. Once they were done singing, the table behind us sang the song again—in Italian. I returned to my apartment to find that two of my roommates had bought a tiramisu from our favorite bakery as a surprise for me. Again, I nearly lost it. I could not decide whether to happily cry again, or whether to dance around the apartment like I had just turned seven.

Today, as I looked up through tear-filled eyes, sitting at a small table in a Florentine restaurant, I realized that as we heal one another, we weave a web of support similar to the one we miss so dearly. Just like homesickness, friendship sneaks up on you. But instead of an overwhelming tidal wave, it is a life boat. This realization was the most beautiful things my friend could have ever given me. Friendship—and love—are infinite. They are not contained by distance. They do not wane or cease to exist with increased mileage. There is no circumference around your hometown or school that contains all of the people that will become your friends.

The world is a huge place, stockpiled with places to discover and people to befriend. It is essential to seek friends in the most unlikely of places. You will find them. You will befriend Democrats. You will befriend Republicans. You will befriend those of varying beliefs—from Catholic to Hindu to Protestant to Jewish. You will befriend people from Maryland, California, Ohio, Washington, Texas, Kansas, Florence, and countless other places. They will utterly and irreversibly change your life for the better, widening your horizons. You will unwittingly expand theirs as well.

Dare to step, with trembling limbs, from familiarity. The metamorphosis is intimidating, frightening, and painful at times. You will miss home and it will catch you off guard. But suddenly, you will find yourself surrounded by people who care about you once more—different people. And they will offer you a vantage point of the world that can only be compared to the freedom of flight.

Rachel Byrd is a student at the University of Alabama, Huntsville and an official API Blogger. Rachel is studying abroad with API in Florence, Italy.

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