I've spent half of the last three years away from home. When I say away from home, I mean outside of my home country. The last year alone was almost completely spent abroad due to being a student in Spain. There are definitely many good things that come from living abroad, and so many incredible and unique experiences are to be had. One thing I've come to notice though is that new friends don't replace old friends and the pull home still finds its way into my thoughts.
I love the adventure that is finding a new coffee spot in a foreign environment, but I sure miss those Sunday morning coffees with my roommate or mom while bundled up on our living room couches. I love visiting new places, museums, plazas, or parks with new people, but I miss visiting some regular old spots with the friends that I've been surrounded by for years - like those classic reunions in one of Northgate's watering holes on the eve of a Texas A&M football game. I love the dinners in new restaurants, where I get to experience new cuisines with new faces, but I still long for some of my grandmother's home-made meals where I'm surrounded by my family.
There really is a tug-of-war type relationship between every little intricacy that comes with living or traveling abroad and being home. It really comes down to the ability to balance these experiences and ones emotions. I know that I long after the alternative after having one in my grasp for a while - a longing for the open-road is ever-present all the while a longing for the comforts of home persist when away. It's something like a double-edged sword, though neither of these are bad in any way. Quite the contrary, really.
As I reach a point where I turn the page towards a new chapter in life, though refreshing, I still have some sense of anxiety as reality sets in and I come to understand that the life I have known for the previous year, the routine, the experiences, the friends, will soon become a distanced memory. It's all a part of growing older I suppose. It's not like I can't connect with those people in the future, but life surely will be different. The future is simply unknown, for all of us really, so we should simply cherish each moment for what it is, to the best of our ability, and remain steadfast in pursuing the best future possible.
In that time away though, I learned a few things about spending so much time distanced from 'home' if you will. I learned some things that nobody really warns you about, and I just wanted to share a few:
- Going to a place outside of your country automatically makes you a walking-talking ambassador for your own. You will experience quite a few stereotypes being thrown at you, plus many blanketed statements, but you simply must embrace them. Roll with the punches. With that said, it is not right to back into a hole in muddled disbelief of your fellow countrymen when you know things are different to what some foreign individual's perception is of your home. Stand up and project the best image possible as an ambassador, but take the jabs with a grain of salt.
- The small and seemingly insignificant moments will have a tremendous impact on you. The little things that people do for you to help enrich your experience will mean so much, and the feeling of inadequacy in showing gratitude for these types of moments makes your skin itch. Your hope then becomes that you will play a similar role in enhancing the experience of somebody else in a similar manner.
- When you delve into a foreign environment, you become extremely vulnerable. That vulnerability sets you up to build new relationships quite easily, actually, but it also can lead to creating such a strong fondness for people that saying goodbye absolutely sucks. It can rip your heart to pieces. The tears burn your cheeks, and the pain that comes from uttering 'goodbye' feels physical because of the uncertainty in ones future.
- Life goes on without you. You will miss significant moments - holidays, birthdays, graduations, and weddings. You will miss insignificant moments such as the casual happy hour or BBQ. While the experiences you are having while away are incredible, once-in-a-lifetime moments, the every-so-often picture of your best friends celebrating in your favorite bar back home or a reunion of sorts at a good friends wedding makes you hurt a little inside. You realize that everybody continues to thrive without you, and that's a good thing, but as happy as you should be, you still wish you would be in those pictures too.
- Independence and responsibility are forced upon you - there is no escaping it. You no longer have mom and dad, brother, sister, roommate, cousin, or your best-friend's former ex-roommate's father there to pull you out of a bind, such as reclaiming your identity in a foreign language. The subtleties of adulthood fall upon you, and sometimes that just means you develop a new perspective on responsibility. In the end, you just grow-up, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Just plan on it.