In the summer of 2013 I lived in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica and I couldn’t possibly have been more homesick if you had stuck me on a rocket and sent me to outer space. I had an incredibly difficult time being in the “now” while I was there. I sat on facebook refreshing the feed to see what friends from home were doing more often than I went to the beach that I lived across the street from and I regret to admit that now. When I bought my ticket for Spain I was aware that this could happen again. I reasoned with myself that now I had an iPhone and would be able to text friends and family back home using whatsapp (which has proved to be amazing for keeping in touch on the daily), I would be in a country with a similar standard of living as that from which I came, and I have wonderful friends scattered throughout Europe who are only a cheap airline ticket and an hour or two flight away.
I had set goals for myself when I went to Central America- get a TEFL certification, teach English, learn Spanish and start writing. I did all those things with an enthusiastic fervor I didn’t know existed within me. The goals I set for myself for Spain are along the same lines- become fluent in Spanish, teach English for a year or two and then get a master’s degree. I have given myself the next year or two to narrow down what exactly I’d like to get a master’s degree in as I am toying with the fields of teaching English, translation/interpretation or linguistics. Apart from taking that designated time to decide on my next move in regards to a post-graduate degree, I came here without a timeline. I arrived with the mentality that I will stay here until I don’t feel like I want to stay here any longer. Or at the very least, I will stay here until I am fluent in Spanish. That could be one year or 20 years. I don’t know. Some people think this is ballsy and courageous, to do all this in a foreign country. It’s funny because I hardly look at it like that. I think they’re just the normal steps I take in order to achieve my goals. When people tell me I’m brave or different or inventive, I tend to wave the compliment away thinking to myself, “Well, isn’t this what you would do if you wanted to learn Spanish and teach English?” And a lot of people would say no.
It took me awhile to understand why. It’s really difficult and it take certain sacrifices. Yes, Spain might have the same standard of living as the states but the culture is different, the way people interact is different, especially when you are looking for a job. And especially when a lot of the times you are talking to potential employers in Spanish and you are definitely not fluent yet. When you live in a place long enough, your connections widen, your opportunities, job and otherwise, widen because of those connections. I have that in Rochester, I had that when I lived in Vermont for ten years. I don’t have that yet in Barcelona. Those connections are slowly surfacing like a whale breaching the sea on a nature show in suuuuuper slow motion.
For the most part, I haven’t felt homesick since I’ve been here, yes perhaps twinges here and there but nothing like I felt in Costa Rica. Even at Christmas being away from my family I was doing quite well. I was in Austria with great friends, people I have known for 10 years, my European version of family. When I was leaving, I told my friend, Gerald, that I was eager to get back to Barcelona and have the apartment to myself for two nights before my both of my roommates returned. Just a weekend of Bekka time, something I typically always enjoy. As soon as I landed though, I felt the absolute opposite. I sat at the airport waiting for the train to take me into the city and I felt utterly and completely alone. My throat constricted and tears pooled at the corners of my eyes as I texted my sister back in Rochester to tell her I had made it safely back to my newly adopted city. I could feel the homesickness creeping in like a fog settling over a valley. “Oh no,” I thought to myself, “please, not again. Not like Puerto Viejo.” The thing with Puerto Viejo was that I was in one of the most beautiful and quintessential Caribbean settings and I couldn’t enjoy it at all. All I wanted was to be home in Rochester. The thing about Barcelona is that it’s so badass! It’s replete with Spanish and Catalonian arts, history and culture and plenty of hiking outside the city lines to boot. I don’t want to be in Barcelona daydreaming about Rochester like I was when I was in Puerto Viejo.
To my credit, I had just spent two wonderful weeks in Innsbruck, the most picturesque town that exists Austria (that may or may not be fact), surrounded by people who are familiar to me. I went from that to an empty apartment. There is such a comfort to spending time with old friends. As my dear friend, Emily (someone I’ve known for 20 years), put it, “sometimes the stark contrast between a visit with good friends, and a home where you feel less at home, can be so hard.” She was spot on, that was how I felt. I sat alone in my apartment that Friday night looking around and realizing that this is my new home, yet it still doesn’t necessarily feel like it.
My weekend returning to Barcelona coincided with the death of the father of a very good friend of mine from Rochester. Even though I never met Mike’s dad, when I received the email from his girlfriend telling me the awful news, I sat at my kitchen table and cried. I cried for Mike and the seemingly impossible future he faced without his father. I cried because I couldn’t be there for him. I cried because I selfishly thought, “Oh my god, that could have been my dad,” and I wanted to be transported to my parents home where I could give my dad a hug and tell him I love him. I cried because I wanted to be at Mike’s house to hold his hand, look him in the eye and say, “I’m here for you.” I cried because I felt helpless and so unbelievably far away on the other side of the Atlantic.
Is it selfish of me to feel even more homesick after hearing about the loss of a loved one and I have never even met that loved one? I don’t think so. Or at least I hope not. I suppose hearing such sad news and not being able to be there is what makes it difficult, is what drives the fact home in my mind that I am not really “home” in Barcelona. When I meet other ex-pats here who arrived with the impression of being here for a year and now have been here for five or ten, they tell me the same will happen to me. Honestly, though, I’m just not sure. How could I live this far away from my family permanently? I can’t wrap my head around being here permanently but that’s because nothing feels that familiar to me. Yet.
This happened the first weekend of 2015 and I find myself holding those feelings of homesickness at bay. It’s not as bad as it was in Costa Rica, nor do I gather it will become as bad. But it’s there. I should have guessed that after three months of relative bliss in Spain, something would come scratching at the back door of the place I am trying to call home. Something would come scratching and remind me what I miss about my old home or my “real” home, if I can’t consider Barcelona my “real” home yet.
But this is the sacrifice we make as world travelers. For those of us who feel there is so much more to see past our backyards. We sacrifice the understanding of how finding a job works in our own country versus a foreign country. We sacrifice perhaps the comforting feeling of “being” or “place” or “belonging.” Of home. We seek to find it in alternative locations, we seek to find it inwards. And for me personally, I know I make the sacrifice so that I can advance as an English teacher as this road I’m traveling is invaluable gold towards where I want to go and what I want to do with my career. And I never thought I would say I wanted a career. But I do. And I know it will involve teaching and language, I’m just not sure what capacity yet. And to do it, I will be homesick in the process. To do it, I will learn to embrace Spain no matter how hard or frustrating that can be at times. To do it, I will tell my family and friends from the states that I love them and miss them more often than I already do. To do it, I will think of Mike every time I wish I was home, I will envision sending healing love from my heart to his and this is how I will find home in Barcelona.