One of my friends always says that homesickness just means there are people you love enough to miss. I have also, while experiencing a bout of homesickness, felt like it just meant I am a weak and dependent person.
After a few months in Italy, I’m still not 100 percent sure who’s right, but I suspect my definition is probably more a reaction than a truth. Or maybe dependency isn’t always negative and can exist alongside independence within the same person.
When I arrived in Siena this June, I spoke barely a word of Italian and knew virtually nothing about the place I had chosen to spend my summer. I was very surprised when the first pangs of panic and loneliness hit. I consider myself a fairly strong and self-sufficient person. My family is spread out all over California and Hawaii, my best friends from childhood live all over the country, and while I love and miss them all, I have never miserably wanted to see them, barring times of tragedy or trauma.
But when my Italian mother, Maura, showed me my room for the first time, I sat down and bawled. I was convinced I had just made the stupidest decision of my life, moving in with a family when the only words I could say or understand were “no,” “ciao” and various names of foods.
It had just taken me 15 minutes, with dictionary in hand, to explain that I have a sister.
I know that I sat in an EAP meeting last spring rolling my eyes as someone went over a chart of the stages of culture shock on an overhead in Isla Vista Theater, and probably skipped out early from the rest of the presentation. Not that a lecture can prepare a person for a new country, language and some oceans and continents separating them from what they’ve always known; I just never really broke it down in that manner. I honestly didn’t think it would be difficult.
But then again, no one ever said it would be simple. If you ask someone about their experience moving – especially abroad – usually it is characterized as a great experience, not an easy one.
Familiarity is what it all comes down to. We trust what we know; the new is frightening, even if it is a small medieval town in the middle of Tuscany with virtually no crime. I think the scariest part is more abstract than the usual travel fears. Rather, it lies in both the real and imagined differences and separations between people. I found that language and culture can only separate so much. It is surprisingly easy to get to know who a person is, even when it is difficult to communicate with them.
Humans are resilient – we do create homes and routines quickly, and fall in love with places and people, if we only let ourselves. After a mere eight weeks, I found myself at ease in both Siena and Italy – which is really the best indicator of an attachment. And when I left, I cried, because it was then that I realized I had created my own niche there, and loved the people I had met enough to miss them.
Was I ready to come home? Yes and no. I missed my friends and family immensely, especially the people I am used to seeing on a daily basis, who have become over the past three years a kind of surrogate family. I missed this place and all its charms and faults. That was actually one of the first things you notice about kids from UCSB – they actually miss here. Not in an I-would-jump-on-a-plane-tomorrow-I’m-so-homesick sort of way, but in the manner of someone who actually likes where they live.
What I ultimately realized was that I am at once more independent and dependent than I’d ever known. I understand that it is virtually impossible to ever be alone in this world, because people are not really all that separate or different, and because the people you love will follow you wherever you choose to go. And I now know that no matter where I am, I will be okay, because languages and cultures are only human creations, and the world is not as big as you’d think.
Marisa Lagos is the Daily Nexus news features editor. She’s home now, but still hasn’t stopped crying.