The day I moved into Hillcrest, I had no clue I was about to meet a friend who would literally cross oceans for me. I can’t thank the University of Iowa enough for the people it’s brought me, and for the opportunity to explore abroad!
Nestled in my Airbnb in Athens’ city center, I can’t help but think about what a whirlwind the last five months have been. My roommate just left me to start her study abroad program for the summer, and I have four more days to kill before my return flight to “the States”. A lot of people have been asking me if I’m homesick and, honestly, I don’t have a good answer. Europe has essentially become my home for the last semester, and for that reason alone I wouldn’t describe whatever it is I’m feeling as “homesick”. However, after meeting my friend in Europe between our programs, I’m reminded that Iowa is my home as well. Not because its where I grew up, but because its where my people are.
When you spend extended time abroad, it’s easy to disconnect from your normal life in Iowa. The people you used to see everyday stop messaging you regularly, your old classmates have moved on to complaining about their new professors, and life just simply goes on without you. In my observations, there are two types of responses to this realization. One is the classic “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out) where one wishes they could get on a plane home right this second. The other, which I think is much less talked about, is DAMO (Disconnecting And Moving Onward, an acronym of my own creation). Instead of wishing I was back home with my friends, I chose to focus on making new friends abroad and squeezing every last drop of fun out of my time here. A result of doing this, however, was a detachment from my life in Iowa.
"This is not to say that I didn’t miss my friends and family because, believe me, I did. But it was a different way of missing them. Instead of wishing I was there, I wished they were here. I wished they were by my side to experience all the cool things I did."
This is not to say that I didn’t miss my friends and family because, believe me, I did. But it was a different way of missing them. Instead of wishing I was there, I wished they were here. I wished they were by my side to experience all the cool things I did. I wish my best friend could have sung “That’s Amore” with me while cruising the canals of Venice in a gondola. I wish my brothers could have watched Rugby with me in an Irish Pub. I wish my dad could have annoyed me with all his random history facts as we wandered through the Roman Forum. I wish my mom could have joined me in browsing the Polish Easter Markets. This is what I mean when I say I was more “people-sick” than homesick.
I knew that my family and friends would want me to make the absolute most of all my crazy experiences, so that’s exactly what I did. But the truth is, I have to go back at some point. For a little while, I dreaded my return. I was afraid that my friends had replaced me, that I had changed so much beyond recognition, and that life in small-town Iowa would seem boring after my exciting time abroad. But my goodbye to Europe also overlapped with a hello to one of my best friends from home, as she joined me to travel throughout Greece. Within seconds, we were cracking the same old jokes and all of my worries disappeared. A week after our reunion, I asked her if I seemed different now. She said,
“Honestly, yes. But you’re still you. Of course, you’ve grown a lot, and I personally love it. You actually seem more confident and sure of yourself. But I knew right away that you were still the same roomie that I remembered.”
I think that this is a pretty good way to sum up my time abroad (thank goodness I have such a wise-beyond-her-years friend). If you’re thinking about going abroad, just know this:
- You’re going to miss out on things. I mean, I had to watch my brother’s gender reveal via Facetime.
- You’re going to experience things you couldn’t have prepared for. I mean seriously, CAT-CALLING is a real thing. You’re going to learn how to react. You’re going to be molded, affected, and ultimately changed.
- But you’ll also find that your roots are strong. One of my best memories is singing “Country Roads” in the pouring rain during Spain's Las Fallas festival.
- And finally, you’re going to go home. You’re going to reconnect. And life will go on again, but not as if you had never left. You lived a crazy alternate reality, and then you came back.
So no, I’m not homesick. I’m people-sick and ready to go back to them. I just can’t wait to tell them all about EVERYTHING. After all, they say traveling turns you into a story-teller and maybe if I’m good enough at it, it’ll be like they were here with me.
One of my favorite things to do at home is hike and picnic, so naturally, that’s exactly what I did the day after my roommate left for Italy. The only difference is, I happened to do it right in in the middle of the largest city in Greece!
Santorini: what a beautiful and exciting place for our reunion!
Everything is better together. I saw some pretty amazing places traveling alone, but I have to admit that it’s more fun sharing beautiful places like this with your best friend.
Puppy love - a testimony to me still being me. Yes, I definitely freaked out a bit when this puppy ran up to me. SO CUTE. I miss my dogs so much and can’t wait for our reunion!
Abby Willging is a neuroscience major and pre-med student at the University of Iowa. A native of Albany, Illinois, Abby is spending the semester in Spain on the USAC Valencia Program.