Back in the beginning stages of planning everything, when China was just this crazy idea in the back of my mind, I came up with a list of a million reasons not to go. Why leaving would be the worst possible decision I could make. Why traveling would ruin my life forever. Many were pretty stupid; What if my plane crashes and I’m forced to integrate with some tiny Pacific island culture WITHOUT WIFI?!? What if everyone back home forgets about me and I become forever alone?What if I catch the bubonic plague?
Some were a little more reasonable; What if I get dumped because my boyfriend doesn’t want to deal with being thousands of miles apart? Will I make friends? What if I hate absolutely all of the food? What do I do if I get lost? Who do I call for help?
And, of course; What if something happens to my family while I’m away?
There isn’t really a way to account for all of the what-ifs anxiety will throw at you, and you definitely shouldn’t be limited by them (especially the crazy ones). But, that doesn’t mean nothing will go wrong.
Last week, one of my worst fears came true. My grandfather passed away, painlessly, but suddenly. Unexpectedly. It was my third day of class, and I was gearing up for microbiology lab in Starbucks when I heard the news. There aren’t really words for the shock and pain I felt in that moment. I think I immediately burst out crying and scared everyone else in the coffee shop. My first thought was: I’m on the wrong side of the world. My second thought was: I need to go home. Right now.
It’s funny, had you asked me just a few days earlier where exactly home was, I would have said Madison. Or, had it been a particularly nice day in Hong Kong, HKUST. But during the entire 48 hours it took to return to the US, home was Minnesota, back with my family.
I spent one week at home. Admittedly, during the daytime I mostly slept, and at night I was up watching youtube videos and looking at pictures of cats while sipping chocolate-mint tea. But I also went out to see a lot of my family. Between school in Madison, internships and study abroad, I haven’t really been home for more than a few days in, well, nearly two years.
There is that old cliche about how study abroad changes you, or finding yourself abroad. I always secretly thought that was just a load of bull. Life changes you. It doesn’t matter if you are in China or Minnesota, time passes by, and we all change. My youngest sister is now figuring out where she wants to go to college and setting up a senior art show, while the other contemplates graduation and entering the job market. My high school friends are working real jobs, beginning to get married, considering graduate school, and freaking out about student loan debt. Almost everyone I knew from UW graduated this semester, and they won’t be back in Madison with me when I return next year. My grandparents shrank, and they look so much less sturdy than they used to. My parents looked tired, a lot more worn down than I remembered.
I came back to old memories of summer weekends spent baling hay, feeding calves, chicken chasing, and sneaking ice cream to the farm cats. I listened to dozens of stories I’ve never heard before, met distant cousins, family friends, and other local veterans. There were lots of tears, even more hugs, and endless mugs of coffee to ease the pain. It all seemed so removed from my life here in UST, but at the same time intimately familiar.
I hadn’t realized how homesick I was until I boarded that first plane and felt a pain clenched around my chest drift away. I reveled in all the little details of life; the smell of fresh coffee everywhere, wheat bread, cheap gossip rag magazines in by checkout lines, and fresh snow and wicked cold. As I settled in with my third or fourth cup of coffee, I knew this was where I belonged. But soon enough, the feeling was back again. Even within a short week, the clamps tightened around my chest. I NEEDED a good bowl of noodles. American commercials are SO annoying. Why isn’t hot water freely available everywhere? Don’t you realize it is cold outside?
Now, back here in the dorms, unable to sleep at 3am for the third night in a row, I am beginning to realize that I’m homesick for a place that doesn’t exist, cannot exist. I want all of my family, high school, college, and international friends within a one hour radius. I want a lake, the Minnesota north woods, Tibetan mountain top temples, cow pastures, and the ocean shore all together. I need a good cheeseburger, Beijing style dumplings, mapo doufu, and fish ball noodle soup served with freshly brewed coffee. I want Portland weirdness with Madison college-town atmosphere and Hong Kong’s cosmopolitan flair. I want a cabin on the lake, a big red barn, and a refurbished urban loft with lots of natural lighting. I want white Christmas’s with tropical flowers and fall foliage. I want the impossible, and it pains me to admit that.
Maybe this is the part of travel no one tells you about. Yes, I can adapt to anything… but can I adopt anywhere?
Mr. Kindschi’s class, I got your questions! I will try to send out answers later on in the week, once I catch up on homework.