For one reason or another, this post has been drifting around my drafts folder since the day I started this blog – for nearly two years – and I never got around to publishing it. Now that it’s finally time for it to see daylight, I find my mind changed.
The original post started with the words: I can’t tell you how to deal with homesickness, because I don’t get homesick.
Now I have to retract that statement and correct myself: I can’t tell you how to deal with homesickness because frankly, it is a completely new feeling for me.
I was 18 when I left home. A very normal age for a young Finnish girl to move out, might I add. Unlike most of my friends, however, I didn’t move together with a boyfriend or a friend, or move to a different city to further pursue my studies; instead, I travelled to Australia. To me, moving to the literal other side of the planet for almost a year sounded less like a frightening challenge and more like an adventure, and for the most part, that’s exactly what it was. My friends and family were eager to find out where I was and what I was doing, and in almost daily interactions I told them everything I could, and they all asked me the same question: Are you not homesick yet?
I used to have this recurring dream back then. In the dream, I found myself back in Finland to see who had married or died or moved to a new apartment, and after that was done, I realised I had no money for a plane ticket back. I was stuck in Finland, and there was still so much that I had to see… to experience… I woke up from those dreams like people do in movies, jolting upright, clutching the sheets until the proportions of a strange room had spun to their rightful places and once again I was assured that I was still the stranger in the strange land, delightfully stranded in a foreign dorm room or a tent or a backseat.
For the longest time I felt almost guilty that I didn’t feel homesick. I knew my friends and family were expecting the opposite answer to that magical question because it is the right answer, isn’t it? You can’t just abandon the life as you know it and expect to be fine. The truth is, though, that leaving is always easier for the one who leaves. I felt guilty saying that I didn’t feel homesick, as if that would have meant that people at home didn’t mean enough for me to miss them. And of course that wasn’t true. However, as I travelled on, I understood the naivete of a small town girl that thought that things would always remain the same. I understood that some people had been my friends merely because we knew the same people and sat at the same table at lunch. I also understood that the relationships worth having would last even if I went away, and that made it easier: that little confidence that even time and distance couldn’t break the ties I had to the most important people in my life. And I was too busy having the time of my life, anyway, to long to go back home.
Going abroad for eight months again shouldn’t have been any different. When I felt nervous before the trip, I felt nervous about things like not being able to communicate effectively in Portuguese or not being able to make great friends or getting robbed. I never even accounted for homesickness.
And yet here I am. I find myself frowning in grocery stores at the bread that’s not the right kind, at the foreign sweets, at the overpriced apples and underpriced mangoes. I miss walking up the stairs to my apartment. I miss taking the bus number 13 everywhere. Hell, I miss those 300 g packets of chicken bits that I would cook with kale and coconut cream. Here the package size could serve a family of five, kale is nowhere to be seen and coconut cream doesn’t taste quite right. (On the other hand, I might not be feeling homesick at all – I might just be missing Finnish food. Uh oh.)
But of course my life is a lot different now than it was just five years ago – I actually have a life. Five years ago I was dreaming big dreams, eager to shoot out of my small town as soon as I could, leaving behind fond memories of the place where I grew up in but feeling no connection to it at an older age. Now, however, I have a homebase and a studying place, friends that I made all on my own, streets and bars and buildings that I have created a meaning for. In short, it is home. Even when the old restless spark has been creeping up my legs recently, telling me to leave when I can – and I have been quick to please that urge – the city has still been my home in a way that I never remembered my actual home town being.
I realised I was a little bit homesick when I was watching TV, actually. I was watching the newest season of a Finnish game show whose most popular aspect are its funny characters. Every actor in the show is required to make up a character and perform that role for most of the season; this year, one of those joke characters was from the city where I live now, Tampere. As soon as she opened her mouth and started spewing out the broadest, most unapologetic Tampere dialect, I felt a little twinge and I had to check myself: what the hell, girl, you don’t even know anyone who speaks with that dialect?!
Nevertheless, it took me back.
It has been weird, letting myself admit that I feel a little homesick. During all my travels I have never felt this way before. I am a little lost, to be honest, and it doesn’t help that I am surrounded by a language which I mostly don’t understand yet, and forced to cook meals that don’t taste quite the same as at home. Right now it is just a little pinprick that sometimes makes me feel a little short of breath, or maybe a little wistful; but I know that one day soon all the frustration of not being able to communicate or cook or participate in anything will pile on until I snap and cry it out hysterically. But as I see it, there is nothing wrong with that – everyone feels this way every once in a while, even if it did take a little bit longer for the feeling to reach me.
And despite everything, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Lately I have felt more happiness and bliss than I can remember feeling for a long time. Besides, rumour has it that another Finnish exchange student might be moving next door very soon… And she is bringing over some Finnish chocolate.
Do you suffer from homesickness? How do you deal with it?
All of the photos in this post were taken in Tampere, Finland, where I live when I’m not chasing crocodiles abroad.