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Homesickness and the Holidays When You Live Abroad

Ahhh, the Christmas holidays! What a lovely time of the year! Perhaps, you will be reunited with your family. After a long period of hard work, all you can think of is Christmas and being home with the ones you love most. All the essays and assignments will have to wait – you are home and that is all that matters (at least, this is what you will tell yourself to feel better about the fact that you are ignoring your responsibilities). But you are home. That in itself is already magical, especially if you live abroad.

Living abroad is a funny thing. It can be a privilege – being able to live in another country as you wish (when it is your choice and you can do it). It can certainly open a world of opportunities for you and it changes you. Experiencing a different culture from yours is a unique opportunity; one that makes you more openminded. Despite its many complications and the numerous tests to your courage, strength, and patience (and wallet), living abroad can be incredibly good. Nevertheless, it can also be a burden.

From the moment you decide to live in another country, you make a conscious decision to make that place your home. You actually need to make it your home so that you have a comfortable place to go back to every day. That is what you must do in order to last there. Your new place becomes your home. Your new friends, your routine, the place where you have lunch at, the library and the old couple that goes there every Sunday to read the newspapers, or the unpleasant smell of the bus you usually take. You build a home in order to survive – and that construction is a long and tough one. Living abroad is a burden because you have two new homes – the one where you were born and grew up in and the one you deliberately built.

When you go back for the Christmas holidays, or any holidays in fact, you will experience the incredible sensation of loving and being loved in return – of being home. However, you will soon realize that you don’t really belong there anymore, at least not completely. Things have happened, people have changed, cousins got married, someone had a baby. Your home might be the same, but you are the problem – you are not the same anymore.  

Living abroad is being homesick and missing your home country, the loved ones you left behind, your comfort and your home. It is thinking about the next time you will go back and try to plan it carefully so that it fits your new schedule, your new life; and then to go back and realize that something has changed – and that thing is you. It is being torn between two different places and trying to find yourself in the middle. It is having a new life, in a far-away place, but not knowing how to fit your old one in it, or if that old one has just been paused and it is waiting for your return.

Perhaps, it isn’t a burden, to constantly miss the place where you are not, but rather a beautiful consequence of our need to build homes, wherever that may be. How beautiful is it, at the end of the day – to love different places in different ways, to have more than one home where you can go back to?

Now that the Christmas holidays are officially over, and you have suddenly realized all the work you left behind, you will possibly find yourself feeling homesick and wishing you were back with your family again. Wishing that you could give them one more hug, watch one more movie at the fireplace, or simply not have to cook at all. But I guess that is the point – you will always be homesick and that is the burden you have to live with. You will belong to different places and that is something beautiful. Maybe missing home is not so bad after all – it just means you have a good place to go back to (or two).

Madalena Ricardo is a Portuguese student at the University of Helsinki. Torn between two countries (and some more). Passionate about writing. Interested in saving the world.
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