Sunday, January 29, 2012

Homesickness: Why It Sucks and Why It's Necessary

 People told me to watch out for homesickness. I pretty much ignored them, because guess what guys, one, I know everything, duh, and two, I already go to school a ways away from my home. I got used to it; surely I could get used to being a few thousand more miles away with the same ease and finesse. But nothing—no warning, at least—could have prepared for me for what I’ve started to feel.
The thing is: when you go off to college it’s awesome, obviously, and all your friends are doing it and you’re all rebuilding your lives at the same time. You’re not missing out on anything, because all your friends are in the same mental—if not geographical, obviously—place you are. You all, together, are creating new friendships and routines and habits and personality traits at the same time. Despite being physically separate, it’s a communal experience.
 Going abroad, though? You’re missing out on everything. Your friends’ lives are changing and evolving without you, people are moving on and forgetting your formerly integral presence; the time they are doing nothing and winding down happens to be right around the time you’re in the busiest part of your day, and vice versa. You are not part of their world anymore. You’re a hypothetical that occasionally crosses their mind, and it’s a weird feeling to be so nonexistent in a world where you used to exist so fully.
Obviously, you get a whole new everything to participate in, but what if you don’t speak the language of that everything fluently? What if you don’t know how to be who you really are—funny or kind of quirky or whatever that may be—in translation? Your very personality hangs in the balance, and you just cannot express it. And you start to feel collapsed. You don’t exist fully in this new world, and you’ve been necessarily erased in your old one.
Company helps: being with people and doing things and the bustle of the day and the sun on your back and shopping and whatever all is wonderful. And it’s all so hopeful. But when your day is over and you’re in your room and no one is there anymore—when you’re just all alone—where does your mind go but to the person you used to so very fully be? To the life you used to fully live? The kind of weird half-ness you participate in now can’t possibly compete, even if it is beautiful and fascinating. It’s just not yours.  
And thus it starts. Home is better than here. Home you are something, someone, a force, a changer, a doer, soul and a personality and a life. What are you here but a shadow in an absent stranger’s spare room? Here is nothing for you. There is everything. How could you have been so stupid as to think you could just leave it all behind without a thought?  
Duh. It was stupid to think that. But think that I did. I’m not as strong as I thought I was, and I’ve discovered that now. I know myself more fully now. I understand myself on a more real and practical level. I am attached. I am possessive. I am not a powerful lone wolf, but a delicate social butterfly, and I left my fellow winged insects of all kinds—the friend kind, the Little kind, the relationship kind, the family kind—behind me to go bat my wings under the Tuscan sun. (Lies, guys, I’m in the Veneto. Don’t get confused. It just sounded better.)
But I also know that it must mean I am braver than I thought—even if it was bravery borne of ignorance! I mean, hell, I just packed up my life and left everyone I love behind to come to a place where I am forced day in and day out to think in a language utterly unnaturally to own brain; I am a woman of language and words and fast-paced thoughts, and I have purposefully reduced myself to the linguistic level of a five-year-old. I—who prides myself so very much on being quick-witted and funny (let me have my fantasies, okay? This is my blog.)—can’t even make a well-timed joke. And I’m not okay with that, obviously, and I feel that I’m not okay with that the second the world quiets and I’m alone with that thought.
So what to do about it? I’m not going to turn tail and come back to America or something dumbshit like that. Because I’m also stubborn—come on, you knew that. No. Instead, I’m going to say fuck you to homesickness and self-pity and boo-hooing. Here I go: Fuck you, homesickness and self-pity and boo-hooing. I reject you. You are useless to me. Go back to your corner. Instead, I will embrace this language. I will speak this language at every opportunity. I will tell my fellow students to speak this language with me. I will make this language my own, until I can be me in Italian as much as I can be me in English. I will make Italian mine.
And by making this language mine, I will make these people mine. The people here will know me not as that awkward chick who can’t speak the language and just kind of stutters out her cappuccino order and goddamn it can’ t even count out her 2 euro coins fast enough because you know what IN AMURRICA WE DON’T HAVE TWO-DOLLAR COINS, WEIRDOS, and turn into that awkward chick who makes hilarious jokes about how slow she at the cassa. I will become socially capable and make real Italian friends with whom I can fully and wonderfully express myself.
And by making these people my people, I will make this city my city. And hopefully sooner rather than later, this home—this cold Italian home—will be my home.
So yeah, homesickness is awful. Awful. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Okay, maybe my worst enemy, but no one else. But it’s an awfulness that has a purpose: it’s going to make me stronger. It has already made me stronger. It’s going to me make me realize my own power when I overcome it and stomp it into a dusty powder that just blows away in the wind. It makes me realize how determined I am to do this. To do this right. To do this my way. Yeah, I know it won’t go away overnight, but I will throw off this awful heavy weight and embrace a new feeling—not one of temporary touristic wonderment or transient shock and awe—but one of unshakeable belonging. I know I belong here. And now I’m going to prove it to myself. 


  1. Who knew Mary could have feelings and not be so STRONG as per usual? It's okay to know you're not a lone wolfpack! And don't worry about the people back home! The important people won't forget your integral presence!

    PS Don't worry so much... you're not so quick-witted or funny in English either ;)

  2. Girl, you are so inspiring and write so eloquently. I felt the exact same way when I landed in Padova, and you are so much better than me at Italian; I have no doubt you will conquer that city and make it your own. And you are not forgotten about here in Boston - your blog is a bookmark on my Safari. We are all thinking about you all the time (in the least creepy way possible)! Enjoy your semester, as I know you will. You rock.