In pursuit of homesickness

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As soon as I arrived in Dublin, I started looking for reasons to hate it. It sounds pretty morbid, but back in Berkeley, intern abroad program coordinators told us that we would experience the standard phases of any long-term trip abroad: the initial honeymoon period, dissatisfaction with the host country, then gradual adjustment. So I figured that the sooner I got over my homesick phase, like with chicken pox, I could start to call Ireland home.

At first I thought I could get away with not catching homesickness. But although Dublin had more free Wi-Fi and cool buildings, the tourists, buses and unpredictable weather reminded me too much of Berkeley. I also consider myself to be a generally well-adjusted person with mild emotions and reactions. My body, though, physically rejected Ireland. Soon after stepping off the plane, I began to experience the whole gamut of allergic reactions: sneezes, coughs and itchy eyes.

On my second day here, I woke to find home splashed all over the front page of newspapers. In Berkeley, six students had fallen to their deaths in a balcony collapse. As an intern at an Irish newspaper, to see Berkeley in the headlines all the time was a weird connection. Though I wanted to mention the “protests back home in Berkeley” or “my newspaper back home in Berkeley,” I felt guilty reminding my co-workers of their national tragedy. Instead, I talked about my weekend trips to Galway and Killarney.

Homesickness struck just when I had fancied myself invincible. Walking down the street amid the European heatwave, people blew cigarette smoke down my sore throat, tourists streamed down the street toward me, and the bus closed its doors in my face. My friends were all a million miles away. That night, I cried alone in my residence hall room.

I talked to a friend about my breakdown, and we recognized that trips abroad are not perfect, that living and working in a foreign country can be lonely and anxious, despite our happy weekend-trip photos plastered all over Facebook and Instagram. In my blog posts, I left out all the times I felt lonely in my room, physically exhausted or alienated from the people at my internship.

But I love that I’m not having the perfect trip. In a strange way, I wanted to hate Dublin, to scream at it and fall in love with the romance of being at odds with my host city. I find  homesickness to be the most memorable part of a trip abroad. That cool thing I did one time in Ireland will not be etched into my memory as deeply as the way the city made me feel lonely, beaten down and eventually awed.

People back home instructed me to enjoy life abroad and worry less about home. I would give the same advice. But I’ve found that the best way to get over homesickness is to embrace home. I wear my supposed “surfer accent” proudly and play into “dumb American” jokes. Seeing American flags draped everywhere in the city on Independence Day made me grin. I still hesitated to mention that I was from Berkeley, but I felt more uncomfortable shedding part of my identity. Especially because I’m only here for a short while, I want to return to the States as a better me, not as a stranger.

I know that when I take my flight back home to the Bay Area, I’ll miss Dublin like crazy. Living abroad forces a foreign place to become your home and your home to become a foreign place. And when I encounter a foreign Berkeley, I’ll have to deal with the loneliness, isolation and alienation of returning to a familiar place as an unfamiliar person. The challenges of travel do not stop at homecoming. But by popping my own Berkeley bubble, I’ve accepted the challenges that come with change.

Missing Berkeley and the Bay Area has made me examine my relationship with home. I realized how much I carry the Bay with me, how much my personality and identity are shaped by the intense competition of Silicon Valley. Life in Berkeley has helped me weather life abroad and the unpredictable Irish storms. In the end, adopting an optimistic attitude is not only a great cure for homesickness but also a catalyst for change in myself. For me, happiness lies on the other side of challenges. So, if my pursuit of happiness includes experiencing homesickness, so be it.


Contact Karen Lin at [email protected].

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