It’s strange how homesickness works. What’s even stranger is that my experience with it hasn’t been anything like what I expected it would be.
I knew that moving to Korea for a year wouldn’t be easy. In fact, I knew it would probably be one of the hardest things (if not the hardest) that I’ve ever done in my life. I knew I would no doubt feel homesick at times.
However, I guess what I didn’t know was what homesickness really is or how it feels. I’m learning that homesickness can work in mysterious ways. In my experience, there’s been nothing straightforward about it. It’s not always clear-cut, or even easily identifiable. In reality, it can be confusing, overwhelming and messy, to say the least.
Here’s what I consider a perfect example: One minute, I’m having a wonderful conversation with an older, extremely friendly Korean man on the subway. We talk for at least 15 minutes. He asks all about what I’m doing here and how I like Korea. Then he asks where I’m from. He tells me how much he likes Canadians, and how he’s heard it’s beautiful there. He hopes one day he’ll be able to see for himself the beautiful country I call home. Before he gets off, he tells me to enjoy my time in Korea, and to learn as much as possible while I’m here. He wishes me luck and says he hopes I’ll have many more adventures to come traveling the world.
The whole conversation takes place in almost flawless English. I’m in awe of this man and inspired by his words. I get off the subway with a renewed sense of happiness and appreciation for the opportunity I’ve been given. I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world. I’m walking down the street with my head held high and a big smile across my face.
An hour later, on my subway ride home, a different wave of feelings overwhelms me. Suddenly, there’s a lump in my throat and I’m fighting back tears. No matter how hard I try to hold them in, one or two escape from my eyes and roll down my cheeks.
I try to figure out what’s bothering me. Whether it’s the reminder of home (and everything I’m missing out on) during my earlier conversation, or just exhaustion getting to me, something has clearly shaken me.
When I finally make it home that night, I lay in bed listening to music and thinking of home. The lump is back in my throat and the tears are flowing again now. I suddenly realize it’s the third time this week that this has happened. I don’t bother trying to hold them back anymore. It’s now clear to me what’s going on. Homesickness has finally found me. I guess it was bound to at some point.
I know it’s something I have to experience and let pass on its own, naturally. So, I do. I spend some time alone, looking at pictures of home and reading the messages some of my closest friends and family wrote me before I left. At the same time that this comforts me, it also breaks my heart a little bit. I can’t breathe for a minute. I now understand what being homesick is really like.
In that moment, I know it’s not going to be an easy road from here. Sometimes, I will wish more than anything that I could just go home. Back to a world where things are familiar and comfortable. Back to a place where I can understand what’s happening around me and what’s being said to me or about me. Back to a culture that I feel like I belong in and to a country where I can do simple, everyday things easily and without having to think about it. And most of all, back to the people who’ve known me forever, who understand me the best and who love me unconditionally.
As I look through those pictures, I prepare myself mentally for what lies ahead. Though I don’t know what tomorrow will bring or how I might feel, I now know a little bit more about homesickness. As the year goes on, hopefully the next thing I’ll learn is how to handle it better.