The Challenge of Returning Home
I’ve moved to New York City three times–or rather I moved there once and continuously find myself coming back. No matter where I go or where I live, it has always been the only place my nomadic self seems to miss. Growing up in Miami, I frequently visited family in the city, which always included going to Broadway shows and shopping for knock-off designer bags in Chinatown.
I was attracted to the energy and the possibility that if you let it, anything could happen. I loved waking up every morning, and not knowing where I would end up by the end of the night. The city’s liveliness, diversity and exciting energy always pleased my nomadic heart. It’s extremely cliché, but New York has been my greatest love. The kind of love that thrills me, inspires me, and pushes me to be better, but also had the ability to make me so mad I needed a break every once in a while.
I moved to New York City for the first time in 2008 to attend Fordham University in the Bronx. In Spring 2011, during my junior year, I decided to spend a semester studying abroad in Rome, Italy. As an art history major, I absolutely loved having my classes inside the Baroque style churches. I knew I would only be in Rome for a semester and that I had to return to New York to finish college, yet I missed it all the time.
I knew I had changed, and I was afraid I would not fit in in the place that I had left. Returning home.
However, the second time I moved away from New York was different. In the fall of 2014, I moved to Thailand for an indefinite amount of time to teach English. It was something I always wanted to do for personal and professional reasons and it seemed like the right time to do it. In the beginning, it was really difficult to deal with homesickness, culture shock, loneliness, physical discomfort, and a large language barrier. However, once that wore off, it was really rewarding. I learned a lot of invaluable lessons about another culture and about myself that I wouldn’t have learned anywhere else.
Deciding to come home was no easy feat. In fact, once I made the decision, I still second-guessed myself for months. I loved the people that had become my family in the small town I lived in northern Thailand and I was constantly inspired by my students but I also knew I wanted to start graduate school and that I really missed my family, friends and New York. Once leaving my home in Thailand, I traveled through Northern and Southern Thailand, before exploring Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia. I saw beautiful places, met inspiring people, and learned a lot about some beautiful countries.
The Challenge of Returning Home.
To end my travels, I participated in a yoga retreat in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. Before heading to Bali, I was feeling extremely nervous, anxious, and sad about my impending homecoming. I knew I had changed, and I was afraid I would not fit in in the place that I had left. However, taking time everyday to practice yoga and meditate helped put everything in perspective. I enjoyed many different kinds of yoga classes and each teacher inspired me in a different way.
One of the yoga teachers encouraged us to focus on our breathing and not engage our negative thoughts during some difficult poses. She told us to not create stories because when we engage those thoughts we can sometimes create unnecessary worry, pain or suffering. It suddenly hit me that that was exactly what I had been doing this whole time! I was engaging my negative thoughts and getting anxious about situations that hadn’t even happened yet. Through yoga I learned I needed to allow those thoughts to pass, but not engage them or create imaginary situations.
The next day, during another yoga class, our teacher asked us to notice the difference in our bodies from the beginning of the class to the end. She went on to explain how our bodies are constantly transforming and we need to let them. She told us, “They say the resistance to change is the greatest cause of suffering but that change can also be our freedom.” She dedicated the practice to our freedom and happiness, and advised us to never hold back and to always give it our all. Not only had my body changed but I knew I had changed as well. I did not know exactly in what way, however, I knew I needed to let it be.
During my last yoga class of the retreat, our yoga teacher began by telling the class she has been recently been thinking a lot about the word ‘refuge.’ She asked us to name a few words that popped into our minds when we thought of that word. People shouted out: safety, embrace, security and comfort. Then she explained how yoga has allowed her to be a place of refuge for the people in her life.
The difficult poses she works through everyday give her strength to be that safe place.
The difficult poses she works through everyday give her strength to be that safe place. She also went on to tell us that during the later years of Maya Angelou’s life, she said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” She was inspired by this revelation and it inspired me as well. My whole experience had made me stronger, but I realized I am now stronger for the people in my life. So many lights went off in my head during that week, and I left Bali feeling rejuvenated, humbled, grateful, full of joy and a lot lighter.
When my plane circled over New York City, the skyline rejuvenated me in a different way. I have been home for about a week now and it feels interesting. Sometimes it feels as if I never felt, but other times it feels surreal and weird. I’ve gotten lost in neighborhoods I used to know well but I’ve also surprised myself with how much I remember. There were friends who I was able to pick up right where I left off and others who now seem like strangers.
The Challenge of Returning Home
Everyone I see keeps asking me the same thing: how was it? It is such a simple question, however it has become the most difficult one to answer. How do I tell them all about my seven month experience in a few words? It was definitely amazing and awesome, but it was also really challenging, while being extremely rewarding and inspiring.
However, one of my colleagues asked me a different question. She asked, “In what ways do you feel like your experience changed you?” Without hesitation or second thought, I told her I was stronger–not physically stronger, but emotionally and mentally stronger. I can handle more. I am a lot more patient. Waiting in lines or even waiting for subways doesn’t seem to bother me anymore. I am not afraid of being alone, getting lost, or of bugs. Overall, I have noticed that the little things that used to bother me don’t anymore.
One of my close friends from Thailand told me about one her favorite books, The Alchemist and how it continues to appear in her life in different ways. It was quite difficult to find English books in Thailand, so when I stumbled upon the book in the airport in Krabi, I immediately purchased it and started reading it. The Alchemist is the story of a young shepherd from Andalusia, Spain in pursuit of his destiny and the people who teach him lessons along the way. For someone on a journey or thinking about taking a journey, it is quite an inspiring story.
I was stronger–not physically stronger, but emotionally and mentally stronger. I can handle more. I am a lot more patient. Returning home.
However, since I was reading this book towards the end of my journey, this particular quote struck me: “Don’t think about what you’ve left behind. Everything is written in the Soul of the World, and there it will stay forever. If what one finds is made of pure matter, it will never spoil. And one can always come back. If what you had found was only a moment of light, like the explosion of a star, you would find nothing on your return.” I’ve learned that no matter where I go or who I meet, those experiences will only make me stronger and help me see the world from a different place. This journey taught me that I can do anything and I can always come home.
Photo credits for The Challenge of Returning Home by Laura Lopez-Blazquez.