One of my assignments on fourth grade was to read a book about a girl who traveled abroad on an exchange student program. This was a thoroughly engaging tale of chasing independence, dealing with language barrier, new cultures and experiencing feeling homesick for the first time. After the class had read the book and turned in the essays, the school arranged for the author to come in to give a lecture. The girl was probably no more than ten years our senior and had attended our school. I had a transcendental experience, it was the first time I had met someone who had actually left home and gone some place else. Everything started to make sense to me. Everything, but the idea of feeling homesick.
“Why would she be crying just because she wasn’t home?” I didn’t get it. To me, getting out should feel more like a blessing than a curse. There was nothing wrong with my family or my upbringing, but I felt a longing for life abroad ever since I can remember. It made no sense and I could not explain it, I only knew how I felt.
A few years later, when I was eighteen, I finally got my first opportunity to go somewhere. I didn’t exactly make it out of Brazil but I was moving from Porto Alegre to São Paulo, which was significant. I was the first in my family to take such a big step and one of my first friends to go anywhere, for good. Think of it as moving from Charleston to New York. It was huge!
I remember dealing with models who were very young (but not much younger than I was), most of them between 14 and 16 years old. Many girls adjusted well to the life in the biggest metropolis of Brazil, pounding the pavement trying to make it in the world of modeling. A few others however, had terrible bouts of depression and loneliness and broke down quickly. Every now and then a girl would come into the office crying and desperate to get on the phone with her mother, just because she missed her parents or felt overwhelmed by the size of the city. I couldn’t relate with that feeling. I never cried, I never felt separated, I never felt distant. I was happy. What could be better than pursuing a career in one of the best modeling agencies in the world?
The first few months in my new city went by smoothly. I had to travel down south a couple of times to gather more of my belongings, so I still maintained a fairly close connection with my family. I didn’t have a place of my own, I was couch surfing with a friend of a friend until I figured things out. The distance from where I was staying to work was enormous. I had to take two buses and the journey could last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, and that’s not counting the late nights. The neighborhood was not only dangerous but the buses took longer than usual, as they ran more infrequently. As the challenges grew I began to understand, to a small degree, what some of those girls might have felt too.
Many years have passed since those first months in Sao Paulo. I now live in New York and find myself experiencing unique layers of emotional pain. It’s been three years since the last time I’ve been home. A series of events kept me from making the trip back from New York, including a break up, a green card and a new apartment. Life happened and before I knew it I found myself feeling anxious and irritable. I became an emotional wreck. I watch cartoons and I cry, the Lipitor commercials come on TV and I cry, I listen to music and I cry, heck, even Homeland has been making me cry. I have become a running joke among the people who know me.
I send Christmas cards with corny pictures of me and my cat, I write letters, I FaceTime. I used to denounce the holidays; now I love them. These days I celebrate tradition, and all I long for is a home of my own. For this person, who always believed in being independent and in belonging to the world, it’s quite a change. Could I be homesick?
Through a very painful process of shedding layers of pride and old resentments I believe I finally got to a point where I am able to accept my roots for what they are. I can finally admit that indeed I do miss home and all the drama that can be attached to it. My life may not be in the south of Brazil, but that doesn’t mean I have to abandon it all behind.
I’ve grown to admire and enjoy some of the traditions from my home country and state. I am proud of our beautiful sunsets, the tree-lined streets, the quality of life, the cultural vain that beats stronger than in most parts of that country. I celebrate the gaucho culture, our funny musical accent and even our orange (or is it red?) taxi cabs.
Being home is an opportunity to remember, recharge and reconnect. Going back gives me the chance to look at how far I’ve come and how capable I am of chasing dreams and goals that sometimes feel unsurmountable. When I’m homesick I realize that all those things were possible because of where I came from. The fact that I came from a reality so distant from the goals I was looking to achieve made me even more resilient. Home may be difficult, but it’s unlike any other place I’ve been to. Home is provincial, but it’s where some of my most special memories and connections are. As I age and experience life on life’s terms, I also realize that home is always going to be the place I turn to for reference and support, no matter where I end up.