When I traveled abroad for the first time alone at the age of 16 to Mexico, I was hit hard with homesickness. Although I had been away from home before, usually visits to my grandparents who lived a couple of hours away from us, and school related trips, I had never been fully outside of my comfort zone. I always was still surrounded by family, friends, and familiar settings. After a very long day that began at Newark Airport and ended at the Olvera family house in the Mexican city of Queretaro, I remember crying myself to sleep that night, asking over and over in my head, “what have I done?” When my mom called my host family’s house the next day, I broke down in tears. Thankfully, only my host brother spoke English and he wasn’t home during my call. It’s not that my host family wasn’t terrific, because they were, or that it wasn’t incredible to be in the native land of enchiladas suizas practicing my high school Spanish, because it was. It was just that everything was different and the only thing I wanted constantly was home. I survived of course, but it’s not to say that my first couple of weeks there weren’t extremely tough.
During my semester in Spain, there was a boy in my program who actually returned home after only a week and a half there. I didn’t know him personally but I heard that he was unhappy and desperately missed home. I couldn’t fathom it. Not to say that there weren’t points when I lived abroad in which I desperately wanted to come home and experience the familiar, but I had made a commitment on many levels. It makes me wonder whether people realize the enormity of living abroad? It’s one thing to travel somewhere, stay in a couple of hotels and return after a week or two. It’s another thing entirely to live among the locals without the many things you are used to on a daily basis.
When I became sick in Spain, having gotten food poisoning, I was at my lowest ebb. Although I had felt more like a daughter to my Mexican host parents, and a granddaughter to my Costa Rican host parents, in Spain, host family and host student relationships were strictly business. Therefore, I never felt fully comfortable completely explaining the depths of my illness to them. I had said I was enferma (sick), but nothing more. When you’re vomiting in a bathroom used by five different people, and cold in a bedroom since central heating is unheard of in Mediterranean Spain, I had never wanted home more. Being sick anytime is hard. Being sick in what is essentially a stranger’s house, where you don’t have the luxury of a Target to buy your sick remedy necessities is even harder.
I find it slightly funny when people tell me that they want to live abroad. I somewhat believe that they’re under the impression it’s easy. Now these are people who have only ever traveled somewhere for a week or two. Any place can be magical for that short a period of time. But once you’re immersed in the trenches, the allure sadly but realistically wears off. The “honeymoon” period is over. My living abroad days ended back at the close of 2007 when I came home from Mexico after working there as a volunteer. It’s not to say that I wouldn’t love the opportunity again to live abroad somewhere. But for now, I’m just as content traveling to places and of course blogging about them.