I have lived in this country since birth with small stints of living abroad. I’ve trudged through the rains of Ireland, gallivanted all over Italy, relaxed on the beaches of Ecuador, soaked up the sun in Colombia, and bathed with buckets in Nigeria. If I add up all the time I’ve spent abroad it’s less than two years in total. And yet, I still miss living and being abroad often.
I love having a car to get from place to place. I love having Target and Panera Bread and Big Lots and Chipotle and Ross and Hobby Lobby and Moe’s all a five minute drive from my door. Most of the time, I love that I can communicate with most people I meet. I absolutely love to not be a spectacle most places I go. I love that retail items are cheap and fairly durable. I love that I don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on a flight to see most of my family. I love that I understand how finances work. I love that most of the time when people say that they’re going to do something tomorrow, they actually do it tomorrow. What I love the most? I LOVE free refills. So much.
I do. I love all these things about life in the States. They were things I found myself missing when I lived abroad. They are things that are genuinely unique to my life here in the United States. And yet, in all those other countries there were some commonalities that sometimes come upon me and I miss desperately.
I miss walking. I know that sounds silly. I could walk anywhere I want. Sort of. It’s just that, for the most part, life in this country is designed around having transportation available. There are actually a lot of people in my neighborhood that use the bus and walk to the neighborhood store (it mostly sells beer), but there are hardly any sidewalks! I get so frustrated about this when I’m walking or driving. There should be sidewalks. The city should be encouraging walking. Beyond the lack of sidewalks, the closest real grocer or restaurant is about two miles away. And again, if I walk there, I’ll be dodging cars all the way. There’s also this stigma with walking here where if you see someone walking somewhere you feel badly for them. I loved to walk in Maryland and I would be stopped often to ask if I wanted a ride. “No, I have a car. I just prefer to walk.”
I miss the slower pace of life. I often feel rushed to get from here to there to the other place. Keeping a schedule is partly just my personality, but life here is so busy that it seems inevitable. Now, maybe this is just me. Maybe there are lots of people in this country keeping to a slower pace of life. (I mean, other than maybe retirees.) I respect them wholeheartedly, but the fact is it’s difficult to live in this culture if you’re not keeping up.
I miss the sun. This one is specific to the more southern countries I’ve visited, but it is so true. When I lived in Colombia I started teaching at 7 am. And when I left my house at 6:30 the sun was already high in the sky and the air was warm. I miss that desperately, especially in these cold winter months. It makes me long for summer in a way that I can’t describe. I miss the light.
I suppose that sums it up, really. I miss the light. The lightness of the air, of the attitude, of the pace. The feeling of freedom in living a world that is completely your own and completely foreign all at once.
I tend to look back on past experiences with rose colored glasses. One of the programs I worked with abroad was not very well run or organized. It was difficult work. The days were sweltering, the hours were long and the administration was lacking. And my co-workers and I complained extensively. And yet, two years later I went back, swearing that it was the greatest program ever. One of my co-workers that year asked how I could ever come back. (Granted, the first year I did it was objectively better than the second year.) A friend of mine did the same program years later and thought I was a crazy person for sending her there.
So, maybe life abroad isn’t so miraculous. Maybe what I miss is actually just warm weather and beaches and sunshine. In which case, I should move to southern California or Florida and I can enjoy the same luxuries (sort of). Maybe I miss being a foreigner. Maybe I just miss the feeling of being on an adventure.
I don’t long for it in the lustful way I used to. I’m okay with the fact that my next big adventure will probably be a six hour drive to Maryland to see my family. I know that this is where I need to be. Where I’m supposed to be. Right now. I honor that sentiment that wherever I am in my life, in my maturity, in my relationships, in location, is where I am meant to be at this very moment.
But sometimes when the light falls a certain way or the street has a certain scent or the radio plays a certain song, I am transported in my heart to those moments abroad and long for the time in my life when I will see those places (or at least places like them) again.