Your bags are packed, your bank account and insurance are closed, your wallet feels a little bit empty due to all the cards you had to give back, you sit down on your bed, wondering how you will make it through the night without your internet (you had to give back the wi-fi modem today), you’re home-bound.
You pace nervously around your empty dorm-room, wondering if it has always been this empty. You check again that your flight-ticket and passport are in sight, you set your keys aside and lay down in your bed, in a desperate attempt to silence your dreadful thoughts. The countdown begins.
You wake up the next day, hand in your keys, wander your way to the airport, biting on your tongue and holding back your tears, you feel it coming. On the gate, you say your last goodbyes, hug the people who have been your family for the past year, fight back the thought that you might never see their faces again, that you might never hug them again, you take one last look at them and turn around to cross the point of no-return. It hits you.
When you first decide to go abroad, this part is usually conveniently left out. Everyone tells you about the culture shock, about leaving your home behind, about how much you will miss your friends and family or all the new experiences you are going to make. Everyone tells you to take care of yourself, to not party too hard or spend a lot of time alone at home. You’ve read it all, you’ve dodged every bullet along the way, made great friends, made wonderful experiences and managed to survive the dreaded culture shock, but now.. Now, the page is empty. It’s like the end of a movie, or the end of a book. Now, it’s your “happily ever after.” Where do you go from here?
The first three weeks are easy. Catching up with old friends, making your obligatory family visits, being the lost child who has returned. During those three weeks, you’re a superstar. However, after you’ve told your crazy stories and after you’ve caught up with all the people you’ve missed, it’s time to settle down. You see, the thing about coming back home, the knot that haunts you the most is the familiar, how unchanged everyone and everything really is.
How can you convey a lifetime of experiences in a couple of hours? How can you explain to your friends and family that something inside you has forever changed? That you’ve stopped enjoying the same things anymore or that you’re more outgoing now, adventurous, brave, crazy.. Part of you just wants to scream it at them, and part of you just wants to persistently try to change the old life you’ve had.
It is then that you start re-evaluating everything you thought you knew. Most importantly, it is then that you start to redefine home. What is home? Because, even though you are back home, you feel a little bit like a foreigner, like you don’t belong, a stranger to a lifetime of familiarity. On the other hand, you also felt a little bit like a foreigner in your year abroad, however in contrast, you now feel a sense of belonging to a lifetime of unfamiliarity. You’ve caught the travel bug.
“Fernheimweh,” is what the Germans call it, it is the longing for a foreign place that – after living there -has become the place where you belong and therefore you don’t feel at home even though you are back home.
You see, you are now a citizen of the world. Your home, which at its truest form manifested itself in your experience abroad, is now the sum of scattered little pieces around the world. Your home is not the country you were born in anymore, neither is it the country you lived in abroad. Home is now an abstract concept, and, like a huge jigsaw puzzle, could only be whole again if you take all those little pieces from Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Australia and place them back together in a place, which only truly exists in your memory.
And therefore, you travel, again and again. You catch a glimpse of that old spark. You realize, that no matter where you are around the world or who you meet, home is what you make it, home is the sum of all humans and all experiences spread out around the world for you to find.
You realize that life was not meant for us to live behind four walls in front of a computer screen, that life is out there, with humans that are thousands of miles apart yet share all of our most treasure-able, most redeeming qualities, with humans who, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, gender or age, are defined by love, pain, compassion and empathy.
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