Coming Home

Lauren Holt - Ecuador


March 6, 2013

Coming home was when my Global Citizen Year really began.

In the weeks proceeding my departure, I was so overwhelmed with making final lesson plans for my students and planning out all my goodbyes for everyone who had shaped my experience, that I didn’t take much time for myself to reflect and actually comprehend that I would soon be leaving it all behind. It’s funny how I was consciously thinking about the fact that I was leaving, but I couldn’t quite seem to get it through my head.

On my last night, my mom made a special dinner for me. I sat at the table and saw my whole family around me joking and laughing – and I was laughing too. It didn’t feel like my last night at the dinner table. When I left the house the following morning with all my suitcases in tow, it felt more like I was going away for another training seminar and I’d be back in a few days. It wasn’t until Andy called for us to get on the bus that it finally hit me. When I went to say my final goodbyes, I could barely talk. And when I sat on that bus without any of them, it was even worse. Everything that had been subconsciously hidden away finally came up to the surface with an explosion.

When we finally arrived at Re-entry Training, I was in a state of numbness. I was distracted enough by all the amazing stories from other Fellows and workshops we were given that I could once again postpone my feelings. I tried during activities to consciously reflect, but my head was all over the place and I couldn’t seem to get one clear thought or memory.

For at least the first few weeks of being home, I unsuccessfully continued to try to keep my grief at bay. Both my parents were still working, but I couldn’t start for another month, and I don’t drive, so I was basically imprisoned in my own home with an excessive amount of time to wallow in my loneliness. I tried to take up time by planning out my Capstones and mindlessly binging on Netflix to push the feelings back down. But one morning, as I was making breakfast, I burned myself on a pan and consequently dropped it, sending myself to the floor right after in a complete breakdown. It was like something from some stupid romantic film. But it was real.

The thing is, I knew from the very beginning that this part was going to suck. Yet, I still went through a phase of shock that took me by surprise. Maybe if I had taken more time to actually reflect and force myself to feel on command everything that I was subconsciously locking away, then my transition would have been easier. But it has been my experience that emotions don’t exactly work that way. No amount of reflection or mental preparation can actually prepare you for what you will face when you come home. You can be mindful of your emotions when you’re feeling them, but there’s no way to prevent them altogether or foresee what you will feel and what will trigger you to feel that way. I suppose I should be grateful that I’m not a sociopath, but when you’re sad, it’s kind of hard to appreciate it.

But I know in my heart of hearts that the emotional price that I am forced to pay now is well worth the experience I received. The only reason I feel such grief now is because I made a home for myself that I am terrified of living without. The connections I made and the things I saw and learned, shaped who I am. Although I have returned to my homeland, I once again feel like a foreigner in an unknown land. And even though I’ve made a similar transition at the start of this experience, adapting back to an old life seems infinitely harder than adapting to a new one.

I know this may all sound very clich̩ – that every white girl returning from a trip abroad says that it changed them and they found a second home. Eight months may only be a short amount of time, and now that it is in the past it almost feels like I’ve returned a dress after trying it out for size. But in that time, living in Ecuador just became everyday life. Everything my family did, I did. Everything they felt, I felt alongside them. I know I can never be capable of knowing what it means to be Ecuadorian, but I have lived as an Ecuadorian and have at least a conscious understanding of what life is like. And just because I am now physically back where I started, does not mean I have forgotten that understanding or connection – and that is the difference, it is not an exaggeration or a clich̩.

I am confident that I did find a home in Ecuador. Home does not have to be a physical place, but a feeling. A feeling of security and comfort, of love and happiness. A feeling that irrepressibly arises in every memory so that it can be felt despite the amount of miles that may separate you or the amount of years that have passed. Yet, although those strong feelings are comparable, it cannot be equated to a relationship – there is no emotional cheating. Just because you love one home, that does not make your love for the other any less genuine or any less powerful.

Time does not determine what qualifies as home, it’s what you made of it and what you take from it. My family and friends changed my life, and I know, at least in some small way, I changed their lives too. I may not have left much behind, but it is the lessons and memories that keep me there and in their hearts, just as they are forever in mine. And that is the true home in which I wish to reside.

In this way, home can be found anywhere, even despite geographical or cultural boundaries. If you are open to adapt and take advantage of what surrounds you, you can survive and even grow to love it enough to call it home. And in those trying times when you are feeling homesick, it is important to remember that you’re never actually living without, you’ll always carry it with you, in your heart.

Lauren Holt