Written by our guest writer Leah Hoxie. Hoxie recently graduated from Hofstra University in New York this past spring, and in this piece reflects on returning home after time abroad.
Perhaps what’s held me back all this time from writing is because I had already given myself a template. My story. My story isn’t one of those dreamy and delightful modern fairy tales. A amazing several weeks spent in a far off and gorgeous land, experiencing a new culture , tasting new food. The same stars that appeared in their home skies, fell into the eyes of the daydreamy hero, and compelled them to seek out further employment abroad. Several years later, the somewhat edgy and curious amateur traveler reads this glowing and ever positive life testimony, and develops goals or ideal scenarios for their own abroad experience…
I’m approaching my two month anniversary of returning home from several months spent in Europe, on a semester abroad and a home stay in Spain. While the time there had always been a magical experience for me, things became “too real” in the sense of the interactions I was beginning to have. The close friends I had begun to believe held me dearly, had been reintroduced to me as too busy, and people who were going to be “important people”.
With the exception of a few truly special individuals who have only since renewed my faith and affection for them by their genuine actions, I found myself in a type of intimate social situation where I was no longer “the friendly witch” in room 244, but rather a lovely American girl who’d lived nearby for a bit. No longer did I feel valued for my personality and traits as I had once been, but my portrait had been faded and smudged back to a fortunate variation in the profile of one who hails from the nation where ‘Trump really became president’.
Although I was still benefiting from the cultural lessons and language practice of staying in Galicia, Spain, my traveler’s spirit had been thoroughly scared off, and I craved my family, and a geographical sense of security in a way I had never experienced for the last month I spent abroad.
Upon landing from my exhausting and eternal journey home, and spending a slow two weeks sleeping in and readjusting, the first tendrils of realizing my existence brushed across my consciousness. Some days later the realization hit me with cold, quick, and unrelenting force in the form of a tuition invoice from my University. Call it a First World Problem in every degree, but the energy around me all seemed to turn liquid, and cold. My insides felt like they were falling, and I sank to the floor, pondering the decisions I’d made up to that point.
It was sitting on my bedroom floor, in near tears over the list of things I now had to do, that I realized what it was I was searching for so blindly and yet desperately in those months abroad. I wanted, I’d even dare say subconsciously expected something or someone, to just appear to me and promise me the riches or power necessary to dance over trifles such as tuition debts and cover letters. I wanted a fairytale. A work online from my own company traveling the pacific 365 days a year fairytale. I discovered in a rush lasting a few short minutes on my bedroom floor that my aspirations were unrealistically high, and that I am in fact a human being.
The importance of my stay abroad did not reveal itself to me until I had crash landed, found myself stuck, and began that climb through wet cement towards ‘freedom’, financial or otherwise, under which we have all submitted. It is in the present, where my current existence is one in an experience of “real life”, that I can look back with beloved tenderness and awe at what was my “best life”.
The thing about experiences, though, is that they’re alive. Experiences live in our memories, and they morph and mature to reflect what we’ve gotten from them. That “best life” existed as just my life in the moment I was living it, and was truly considered to represent its name only during my depressed readjustment phase after coming home.
Approaching the two month mark of my homecoming, (homecoming in a way that feels, deeper; I don’t expect to take any long and far trips for at least a year or more at this point) the term best life has reduced back to a satirical joke I use to describe how great my time was abroad. Don’t get confused, I still consider travelling a great love of mine, and all of my time spent abroad shaped me in ways I could anticipate or ever change. I respect the traveler’s mantra and lifestyle, living it has helped me subsist in ways I couldn’t dream of in my “real life” situation.
This respect I have for the experience will be held forever sacred to me, as my first life-long dream accomplished, but as I quite literally said to myself several months ago upon unpacking my things to stay in Spain, “now that I’ve accomplished this supreme dream, what am I going to do next?” At the time, my answer to that question was a blank stare at the beautiful view before me. I had no fucking idea, but I still wasn’t quite at that point yet.
It can sound really cool to buckle down and dig my knees deep into a new country, gain 100% fluency in Spanish and search for a cultured European spouse. Such a feat is a staple of today’s glossy traveling testimonies, and yet it seemed so far from what I, from what my gut wanted. In the final month of my stay in Galicia, Spain, I lived comfortably with a loving local family, and came to consider their only daughter with whom I was to practice her English, like a younger sister. I spent eight weeks eating good food and wine in one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. The only reason I could have to not feel anything but immense satisfaction at my situation, lingered in my abdomen for weeks approaching my return home.
Loneliness. An ache for the familiar, for what I understood, pooled within me, and afflicted my mental state and behavior like a sickness. Knowing a spoken language and the actions of a people is not enough to be part of it. Considering the progress I made in a summer, I’m confident that I could’ve absorbed more language, culture, and nuances to a Galego way of life. I think fondly of my host family now, but my entire month of August was spent haunted with images, and gripping urges to see members of my family. After a balanced and filling meal, rich in flavor and nutrients, my mind would want for a familiar sight on my running errands, or eating something so miscellaneous and unhealthy, anyone I met comfortable with their life in Europe would choke on their bread.
Looking back, this is the hardest part to recall. I’ve been among people I love for two whole months now, on a near daily basis. The dark chasm that divided my root chakra has gotten smaller, but the me in Galicia felt its sorrow deep. I can remember communicating with my inner and eternal self, firmly mandating to never forget the uncanny feeling of insecurity. Being away from your family too long can make you crazy, desperate. All experiences are personal and differ in millenia of ways from person to person, but my experience as a homesick traveler was inexplicable in its ferocity, and insidious in its effect. Negative and terrifying experiences now seem childlike in retrospect, and at times I feel they only happened because the lack of being with what I know, and its insecure effect reduced me to finding such situations.
Some would call it a shame that my lasting memory of being abroad was one so dreary I left Europe fighting and scraping for my place of origin, take it from me directly that I it really wasn’t so. My subconscious tells me it was biting more than I could chew; being so lost in the cake I forgot it would give me a stomachache, and make me fat. At the end of what felt like a year of disconnection with everything and everybody, I saw my life to be a disorganized mess of debt and clothes from the thrift store, with lots of budding and affectionate friendships, dried up into herbs for tea.
Coming home was not like the opened floodgates of affection I’d expected and hoped for, but resembled far more the everyday stream of the kitchen sink