Home Is Where You Make It
When living and teaching abroad, completely immersed in a foreign community, homesickness happens. Learn how WorldTeach Poland volunteer Stacey Lee Gonzalez healthily recognizes what she misses about the United States, and how she has discovered a sense of “home” in Poland.
I arrived in Poland with an open mind. Opinions, thoughts, experiences, and contrasting ideas were all fair game. I enjoyed every moment of this cultural saturation. As the fourth week of my service in Poland came to a close, though, I found myself blind-sided by a gripping sense of missing everything I had back home. My friends, my family, the daily routine perks I indulged in – I wanted it; I missed it.
Coming to the realization that I couldn’t walk out the door of my apartment in Łukow to be greeted by all my loved ones was such an awkward feeling. And I say awkward, because thinking further back to when I first made a commitment to Poland, I wanted it so bad. In fact, I still do. I’m sure there’s this notion that the appropriate thing to say would be that I realized, “home is where the heart is,” or “you don’t realize what you have until it’s no longer in front of you.” But, to be honest, living in Poland has taught me home is whatever you want to make it. Prior to Poland I already knew what I had. I didn’t need to go to another country to acknowledge that I have some dedicated mentors, amazing friends, and a loving family. I’ve been aware of that for some time now.
It has been a blessing in disguise, though, going through these mixed feelings of being homesick yet still trying to immerse myself in the Polish culture. I remember trying to Google tips and advice to avoid, re-mediate, and even combat homesickness while abroad, and the same message kept creeping its way back into the articles – keep busy, establish routines, find things to get your mind off these feelings.
Reading this was helpful to an extent, but I didn’t want to numb, disregard, or barricade myself off from the things I was clearly thinking and feeling. I thought, why would anyone want to “get their mind off of being homesick”? What, in fact, made it so scary to acknowledge that I did indeed miss home? Would that make me weak to those that looked up to me? Would it frustrate those that had personally helped me get to Poland?
I thought about it, and I credit a lot of my homesickness to the fact that I’m comfortable back home. I have the luxury of getting instant access to a sense of comfort just about anywhere I go or in anything I do.
Excluding the language barrier, there are so many other types of things, difficult or not, I encounter in Poland. However, there are many more possibilities for me to make connections here – from connections with my students, to my host family, and even the connections on my train rides (cheesy, I know, but I couldn’t help it). All the lectures and instances where I was constantly being told that I was part of a vast global community hadn’t quite hit home till I got here.
To be honest, the only thought or image that instantly came to mind when I thought of a “global community” was the dingy blue carpet I used to sit on in kinder – the one with a cartoon world printed on it and all the multicultural kids of the world in a circular embrace around it. That image was feeble minded, maybe, but was I content with my idea of a “global community”? … of course not!
I’ve found that my personal solution to being homesick has been seeking, embracing, and identifying those global connections. Thriving off of personal connections has not only aided in shaping my perception of what a global community may or may not be comprised of, but now it’s my driving force in seeking more opportunities that will allow me to connect with other people and experiences from other parts of the world. Plus, when I make connections at all the right times, I don’t miss my trains, either!
– Stacey Lee Gonzalez, WorldTeach Poland Summer 2013