The University of Iowa

The Reality of Homesickness

October 23rd, 2015

By Claire Jacobson*

Homesickness hit me hard this past week, which marks a little less than two months since leaving home. When I was getting ready to leave, back in August, I knew I would miss some things while I was in Morocco, like my family, friends, dog, et cetera. But these aren't the things that bothered me the most– it's not hard to make a Skype call home. The real difficulty lies in a few things I never knew I would miss, little things that even though they wouldn't matter by themselves add up to make a big difference:

I'm keeping a record of incredible sky photos, which weirdly helps me feel less homesick. This one is in Casablanca.

1. Wall plugs that fit my electronic devices without using an adapter. This is actually a thing, which irrationally irritates me. Also, my adapter means I can't use the plug next to my bed, because the adapter is wider than the space between my bed and the wall. 

2. Thanksgiving. Both the holiday and the week off of school that we don't get because it doesn't exist here. Granted, we have a shorter semester because of it, but somehow November is always easier to handle when you know there's a break coming, instead of just more school and then finals.

3. The knowledge that I don't sound like an idiot every time I open my mouth. Granted, I don't always manage that even when I'm at home, but at least at home I sound like an idiot in my first language instead of trying to make myself understood in my second or third and never being sure if I'm succeeding. I'm actually fairly confident of this in French, but when I start speaking Arabic I feel really self-conscious and assume that the other person is secretly judging me. (Now imagine me taking my oral midterm exam in Arabic this morning in front of the whole class.)

4. The knowledge that even English speakers will understand me. Even talking to people who speak English very well, I unconsciously use expressions that people don't know or talk too fast or use weird analogies (again, I do that anyway at home, but people usually figure them out). The result being I have to repeat what I said more slowly or figure out how to say it differently, which also makes me very self-conscious. (So basically verbal communication is twice as stressful as it is at home, which is saying something. There's a reason I want to be a writer, not some kind of motivational speaker.)

This is an October sky over the AUI mosque, and the library behind it.

5. Anonymity. While there are a lot of internationals on campus, whenever I venture off campus I feel like a bug under a microscope. Less so than if I were blonde, but still. People tend to assume that I'm French. (Although, no lie, I have been mistaken for a Moroccan now, even after I opened my mouth. I know. I thought the sky would fall and the apocalypse begin at any moment, too. Apparently my dark hair and convincing pronunciation of “hello, how are you?” is enough to make my six feet two inches of pale Irish-ness forgivable.)

6. I left my copy of the Lord of the Rings at home because it was too heavy. I'm not kidding when I say reading Tolkien is how I relieve stress sometimes. Is this what withdrawal feels like?

7. My beloved home campus that is in an actual city. I never thought I would consider Iowa City large in any sense of the word, since I originally hail from Seattle and Iowa City is basically a small town to me, but the AUI campus is basically an isolated gated community. Getting to the (actually small) town nearby is a lot more work than I'm willing to do sometimes. It's like living in Mayflower all over again, but even farther. I miss being able to stop by T-Spoons or Java House between classes, or go to the public library to study, or go to a reading at Prairie Lights, or do other things that people generally do in actual municipalities.

8. Grass. We are not allowed to sit/walk/study/breathe too hard on the grass on campus, mostly because it's so hard to maintain in this climate. So it's always beautiful, and it's difficult to ignore the siren call… But the threat of a fine is usually enough to dissuade me (while leaving me feeling bereft of part of my college experience).

9. The privacy of my grades. In my Arabic class, my professor goes over exams and homework and lists people's mistakes, with names, and tells everyone who the best score was. Which just makes the whole class hate that person for the rest of the day.

Rainclouds don't go on forever. In the mountains you can see the edge, miles away.

10. The nearest pumpkin spice latte that I know of is in Casablanca, which is just too far for a coffee run. Okay, I am a white girl, but I usually don't fit the stereotypes. Like, I don't own a pair of Uggs, I don't wear leggings as pants, I type very poorly on a touchscreen (because I've never owned a smartphone), I don't have an Instagram, and when I found someone's eyeliner on the ground the other day I thought it was a pen, because that's how often I actually use that kind of thing. (My roommate and I puzzled over this for several minutes before coming up with an answer to the conundrum.) But drinking pumpkin spice lattes is one stereotype that I unabashedly claim. And I won't get one this year, most likely, because they'll be out of season before I get home.

So there you go. Those little things I never thought I would miss. Although, if I'm being honest, the social acceptability and temporal plausibility of regular afternoon naps here is probably enough to counteract all of those things put together.

*Claire Jacobson is a 2018 sophomore from Iowa City, Iowa, majoring in French and Arabic with a certificate in writing at the University of Iowa. She is studying abroad this semester on the ISEP Al Akhawayn University program in Ifrane, Morocco.