Surviving My Third Thanksgiving Away from Home
“How is everything going?” my mother asked me over the phone a few days ago.
Where should I start? I am, so to speak, in a glass case of emotions right now. The past three months of living and studying in Costa Rica have been amazing. Yet I am so homesick for Thanksgiving and Hanukkah with my family. I just found out that I got the internship of my dreams in New York City for next semester. And, I have a huge research paper to write in the next week. I have so many new Costa Rican friends, and most of them are nuns (another dream comes true!). And it always hurts to say goodbye to a new home.
Costa Rica is the last country I will live in before I move to New York to finish my undergraduate degree at LIU Global. My school has brought me to Taiwan, Thailand, India, Turkey, China, and finally to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The last three years of constant travel have exhilarated and exhausted me. I am so comfortable being uncomfortable now that it feels awkward to go back to the U.S.
Still, I keep thinking about all of the familiar things I love to do in my hometown, like eating cereal on my couch, baking as many cakes as I want to, spending time with old friends and family, going to that one Thai restaurant… I guess after all of this time, I’m ready to say goodbye to long-term travel for a while.
It’s always hard to be abroad for Thanksgiving. My LIU Global family has gotten me through my homesickness with delicious meals and the support of a community. In rural Thailand two years ago, we managed to cook up a feast with two burners and one microwave. Last fall in China, a friend and I made a Thanksgiving feast using one hot plate and one oven. This year, some friends and I are making latkes (delicious, fried, potato pancakes for Hanukkah) to share with our big student group.
When I travel, the people I travel with become more than friends. They become my family. And being surrounded by people I love can also give me a sense of home. Costa Rica does not feel like home to me, and that is one reason that this Thanksgiving is making me feel especially homesick. But there are people here who support me and listen to me, and they give me the feeling of a different kind of home.
I know that women travelers are powerful, independent, and strong. Sometimes, we are also lonely. It can be heartbreaking to make deep connections with a place and then rip up your roots a few short months later. That is why it is so important to find something that feels like home when you are abroad.
When I first went abroad a few years ago, I didn’t know how important my LIU Global family would be to me. I envisioned myself as a brave adventurer leaving behind an old way of living. For a while, this was a really satisfying way to travel: everything was new and exciting. After the first few months, though, I felt a longing to be home. Flying back to Chicago on a whim from Thailand or India was not an option financially. So I had to figure out some way to make myself feel at home where I was.
When you lay in a hospital bed in the middle of India next to a friend who is also sick, and you both feel like you’re dying, and there is somebody else’s blood on the walls and mice running around on the floor, you and that friend will probably become linked for life. When you’re trying to find your way back to your hostel at 3 AM, and you’re lost in Taipei, you have a lot of time to share your fears and dreams with whomever is walking back with you. These moments, though difficult, create connections that can make me feel at home even when I’m thousands of miles away from my blood family.
In a university like LIU Global, we students have the opportunity not only to study abroad, but also to create a whole new network of people we love and care about. I would have given up on adventuring abroad long ago if I didn’t have the support of my friends who traveled with me. So I want to ask you: who has been your family and your home abroad?
Maybe your religious community has helped you feel at home. I met another American student in China who went to Mass every week so she could feel connected to her roots. Maybe blood family members have come to visit you abroad. When my mother came to travel with me in China, I was able to show her all of the places that felt like home to me there. Maybe the group of people traveling with you, even with their annoying habits and dramas, has been your source of home.
As I look back on the last three years of travel, I want to offer a thank you to all of the places and people that have made it possible for me to make homes abroad. Despite Thanksgiving’s bloody history, I think it has the potential to be a liberating holiday. Who will you say thank you to? What home will you say thank you to?
(As a side note, I recommend reading this poem “Thanks” by W.S. Merwin.)