Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Confession: I’m Homesick

These past seven months living abroad in Spain and working as a language assistant have been one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve embraced the challenge of living on my own for the first time, I’ve enjoyed getting to travel to places I’ve dreamed of for years, and I’ve gotten to practice and (I hope) advance my command of the Spanish language.

Villanueva del Arzobispo, Spain
Villanueva del Arzobispo, the village where I work
I was extremely fortunate to find a job—any job—just four months after graduating from college (“in this economy,” to use a clichéd phrase), and I was even more fortunate to get placed by the Spanish Ministry of Education in a really lovely school with a carpool so I could live in the World Heritage-listed town of Úbeda, famous for its Renaissance architecture.

Here in Úbeda I’ve made friends with some amazing fellow language assistants and honed my blogging and photography skills. I’ve learned to cook for myself and even picked up a few Spanish recipes along the way. Separated from American culture and expectations, I’ve grown more confident about being myself and gained an appreciation for Spanish culture, too. In short, it’s been a great school year and I can’t wait to do it all over again up north in Galicia in the fall.

But the thing is, I’m homesick.

Texas sunset
Texas-sized sunset near my house
I miss my parents and my brother, my friends from college and from high school. I miss speaking English and being able to communicate an idea 100% (and eavesdropping!). I miss having an Indian, a Salvadorean, and a sushi restaurant all on the same corner, and I miss those special ingredients only available at American supermarkets, like blueberries. I miss fresh, ice-cold gallons of milk (although UHT boxed milk isn’t terrible). I miss cycling through alternative rock, NPR, and classical music stations on the car radio (although I don’t miss driving at all). I miss Mom’s cooking and I miss Dad’s punny jokes. I miss real, tall, shady trees and I miss landscaped yards, however wasteful they may be. I miss the embarrassment of riches that is the Plano Public Library System. I miss having an outlet mall 20 minutes north of my house. I miss having a U.S. IP address so I can watch Saturday Night Live on Hulu. I miss church and singing in church, hymns even. I miss Southern hospitality and (at least feigned) politeness in passing and on the phone. I miss Tex-Mex food (read: Chipotle). I miss driving with the windows down at dusk on a warm summer evening through the wide open spaces of north central Texas. I miss the comforting smell of my home’s wooden front door, baked in the sun on a 100-degree afternoon. I miss my summer office job and the great people I work for. I miss the street grids of the suburbs. I miss fast food and I miss quiet, chill coffee houses. I miss having a huge selection of all kinds of fruits. I miss my bookshelf and the books and memories it holds. I miss opening up the garage door, rolling the car inside, and walking down the hallway into my childhood home.

I’m tired of living in a town of only 35,000 people (even though it’s completely walkable and has public transportation links with the whole country). I’m tired of not being able to find certain ingredients at the grocery store. I’m tired of inconvenient and strictly-held to daily schedules where the town is deserted and all businesses closed between 2pm and 5pm and 9pm to 9am. I’m tired of the same menu choices in every restaurant. I’m tired of only having only one private English class student a week (maybe better luck next year?). I’m tired of not being able to understand nearly anything people here say to me, the accent is that difficult. I’m tired of there only being half a dozen fellow Americans within an hour’s bus ride. I’m tired of going to the doctor’s office with a raging sinus infection only to be told “oh, he won’t be in until Monday.” I’m tired of dealing with untimely bus schedules to get to the local train station or a decent-sized city. I’m tired of feeling little more than a dictionary and sentence-reader in class. I’m tired of the lack of inside voices. I’m tired of having dinner at 9pm because I like to go to bed before midnight. I’m tired of having to deal with the barriers set up by the local foreigner’s office. I’m tired of slow or nonexistent Internet access. I’m tired of feeling like a hermit because I never really clicked with my hard-to-understand-their-accent Spanish flatmates. I’m tired of hang-drying socks and underwear and I’m tired of hand-washing dishes.

U.S. Capitol
The U.S. Capitol. ‘MURCA.
To be honest, I’m pleasantly surprised this wave of homesickness is hitting me SEVEN months into my stay here; if you had asked me about my life back in February or March I would have been happy as a clam right where I was, and (I’ll admit) terrified of *having* to go back to the U.S. eventually. From what I’ve read, it sounds like feeling frustrated with your adopted culture and homesick is supposed to happen pretty quickly after your arrival and the initial “honeymoon” phase. So I don’t really have it that bad.

Parker County Courthouse
Old Parker County Courthouse, about two hours from where I live
And I know I’ll be pining miserably for Spain within weeks of getting back to car-dependent, English-only, and politically-crazy Texas. But at this point in my life, I’m currently experiencing homesickness and am simply having to deal with that. I know it’s just a passing emotion so I’m reassured that it will be over soon (I’m traveling most of the month of June and will be home in less than two months), but it sucks now.

Texas flag
Texas flag at the State Fair
Perhaps this came over me because of the one-two punch of emotions that was last week: I got back from visiting the gorgeous city of Sevilla over the weekend to realize I had a sinus infection; I read about the gruesome Boston marathon bombings, the defeat in the Senate of basic background checks when purchasing guns, and the explosion of an rarely-inspected fertilizer plant in West, Texas, all back-to-back; and I learned that my Mama is basically on her deathbed.

These all combined with little annoyances with Spain and frustrations that had been building up for the past few months to make me wish I could just say “peace out” to Spain and be back home.

I’m not about complaining on this blog, though; I accept full responsibility for my decision to commit to teaching abroad in Spain for a school year and I realize that the consequences of that decision include frustration with Spanish culture and missing home. I have been extremely privileged to be able to move across an ocean, travel Europe, and be immersed in Spanish. I just needed to get this out here because I believe a blog about expat life should show not only the glamorous weekend trips and fun explorations of a foreign culture, but also the real, everyday, nitty-gritty realities that you face living abroad, the realities of being a foreigner. It’s a thrilling, always-something-new lifestyle, but it’s hard at times, too.

Grand Canyon National Park
Me and my brother at the Grand Canyon (old picture; we look totally different now)
In under two months I’ll be back in Madrid, back where it all began in September of last year, back in the Barajas airport but heading in the opposite direction. I’ll be leaving part of myself amongst the Renaissance palaces and churches of Úbeda and the endless olive groves, and I’ll be leaving the country with a decidedly andalúz Spanish accent, a lot more maturity, and many memories of traveling across my favorite country (outside the U.S., of course). And I’ll be back in the Great State of Texas, hugging my parents and cracking inside-jokes with my brother, and we’ll all be eating enchiladas, and I will be home.

Have you ever been homesick? Talk about your experience in the comments.
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