My mom is fond of saying that during 3 years she spent in rural Zaire—now the Democratic Republic of the Congo—as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1980s, her only contact with the outside world came in the form of letters which took weeks to traverse the Atlantic. For better or for worse, there is little chance that I will ever emulate my mom’s experience unless I intentionally and artificially isolate myself overseas. Certainly the 3 months I’ve now spent in metropolitan France in 2017 do not compare. However, I cannot help but feel that there is a noticeable difference between my mentality here and my mentality at Georgetown in regards to the way I regard my (original) home.
I never really felt homesick at Georgetown, least of all freshman year when I was still reveling in the freedom of having finally escaped the small town I’d lived in all 17 years of my life. A large part of this flippant attitude stemmed from my knowledge that temporally I was never far from a break and hence an opportunity to return and, moreover, that if need be I was physically near enough my hometown that I could make the trip back in half a day’s drive or an even shorter (and relatively inexpensive) flight. I wouldn’t classify my current feelings as homesickness per se, mostly because, as I understand it, the term implies that one is so unhappy with one’s current surroundings that one wishes to return home. On the contrary, I do not in the least regret my decision to stay in Lyon for the full year and I am excited to see what fresh adventures the remaining 2/3s bring. That said, this occurrence of two events this past week—my birthday and Thanksgiving—has led me to engage in some of that prized Jesuit reflection (disclaimer: the Jesuit-ness of my reflection has not been verified).
The fact that, unlike my friends and family in the States, I was not on break for the week of Thanksgiving didn’t bother me too much. I feel less burned out here than I do at this point in the semester at Georgetown (perhaps due to the almost utter lack of any schoolwork during the first couple months—it is finally starting to pick up but the it was nice while it lasted) and plus, I recently went to Italy for eight days during La Toussaint (which I belatedly realized translated to All Saint’s Day and constitutes the French version of fall break). However, going about my life as normal on Thanksgiving while surrounded by French strangers for whom it was just another November day made for a jarring experience. I felt, for the first time, a complete disconnect between myself and my surroundings, a sense that “these are not my people, not really.” Seeing Black Friday sales the next day (all advertised in English as apparently no one’s trying to make Vendredi Noir a thing), while amusing, didn’t quite make up for the fact that the word Thanksgiving simply does not exist in the French lexicon.
Following this shock to the system, I’ve come to terms with the fact that my temporary breakup with all things American, while liberating in many ways, will occasionally bring side effects of nostalgia. I guess distance not only makes the heart grow fonder but also has the power to turn dislikes on their heads. We’ll see if my newfound appreciation for the sort of wholesome American traditions I once rejected wholeheartedly survives the trip back home and, more pressingly, whether my feelings will change or grow in intensity next semester. Either way, I’m increasingly grateful that while I’m steadfastly staying away my birth nation during winter break, my family members will be coming to visit.