“When you get homesick, it’s not something missing, it’s something present, a visit. People and places from far away arrive and keep you company for a while.”
― Erri De Luca, God’s Mountain
Thirty-three Octobers ago, I was on the other side of the Atlantic, 4,362 miles from where I live now and 4,329 miles from Miami, the city where I used to live until the fateful spring of 2016. That place across the pond was the Spanish city of Sevilla (or, in English, Seville), and I was there as a participant in a study-abroad program I’d enrolled in to see a bit of Europe while at the same time fulfilling my foreign language requirement.
At the time, I was twenty-five and still resolved to earn an associate of arts degree in journalism at Miami-Dade Community College, even though by then I suspected it was a fool’s errand. I had already tried to take remedial math twice and not done so well, and if I couldn’t pass that course, there was no way on Earth that I’d pass the three college-level math classes which, at this point in my studies, were the only required courses that stood between that AA degree and me.
I had been in Sevilla for just over a month, and like most of the forty-two participants in the College Consortium for International Studies (CCIS) Semester in Spain (Fall 1988) group, I was riding an emotional roller coaster.
On the one hand, I was elated to be a participant in the Semester in Spain program. Getting accepted in a CCIS program is not child’s play; you had to have a decent grade point average (I believe the minimum GPA for being accepted was 3.0) and written recommendations from two of your professors to be considered, and even then you had to either apply for a student loan or have the $3000 (in 1988 dollars; adjusted for inflation, that’s about $6,956.30 in 2021 dollars) for tuition and activity fees, plus additional funds for room and board and personal expenses. And, on top of that, you had to be interviewed by the head of the foreign language department.
Luckily, I had enough money – barely – in the bank for my Semester in Spain sojourn, so no student loan was necessary. I also sailed through the vetting process, although I must confess that I was glad that the two letters of recommendation – one from my Spanish I prof, the other from my journalism adviser – were persuasive, because I was terribly nervous during the interview with Dr. Robert Vitale.
So, yes. I felt fortunate that I had the grades and the financial means to be where I was – in Spain’s third largest city, a lovely and historic location – at that point in my life. It was, I mused then, a grand adventure, and I suspected it would be my best – and only – chance to go to Europe.
On the other hand, I had a tough time adjusting to the idiosyncrasies of the Spanish way of life, especially the differences between the Spanish daily schedule and the one I had left behind in Miami.
As I wrote in a column that I wrote for the December 1, 1988 issue of Catalyst (the only article that was published while I was in Spain):
In addition to the basic problems of living in a country with a different language, history, culture and political system, a student abroad can expect to face the following challenges:
Homesickness. This can be overcome with a positive outlook and support from fellow students and the home front. There have been days when most of us here have felt depressed, when we have mailed post cards and letters to everyone we know and no one except parents have bothered to write back.
Culture shock. Believe me, when you first travel to a foreign country, you will be hit by the oh-my-God-how-weird-this-place-is syndrome. I still get impatient with the “let’s close everything down between 2 and 5 p.m. and go home for lunch” system.
Meeting new people. A very universal challenge anywhere, but if you’re going to study-travel abroad, you must make friends both with your fellow students and the natives you come in contact with. One of the nice things about the program is that I’ve met students not only from my home campus but also from colleges and universities from all over the U.S.
Anti-Americanism. Whenever a major power like the U.S. gets to be a country with wealth and influence and the military muscle to back it, all the other nations tend to get resentful.
I think about my Sevilla sojourn – usually around this time of year – when I feel sad or homesick for Miami. Sometimes, the nostalgia is triggered by weather changes – right now the temperature there is similar to the temperature here, and the afternoon sun comes into my bedroom in the same way that it did in Apartment 2E at No. 1 Virgen de Robledo in the barrio called “Los Remedios.”
“Oh, London is a man’s town, there’s power in the air;
And Paris is a woman’s town, with flowers in her hair;
And it’s sweet to dream in Venice, and it’s great to study Rome;
But when it comes to living there is no place like home.”― Henry Van Dyke
Back then, I sometimes regretted leaving everything and everyone I was familiar with in search of adventure and excitement. I often dreamed I was back in my bedroom in Mom’s East Wind Lake Village condominium. Sometimes the dreams were so vivid that I heard specific sounds – my mother’s voice, my Persian cat’s meows, and the noises that some of my Apple IIe computer games made during gameplay. And, of course, I’d wake up and find myself in a bedroom that was only mine temporarily, but not really mine.
I have been away from Miami for half-a-decade, and even though I have my own room here, I sometimes have vivid dreams of my old room in what was once my house. I know they’re dreams because I often see my yellow Lab, Mary Joe Cacao, and my mom as they were back in 1998 (10 years after my Seville experience) – and they both have been dead for a while. My dog died in 2003, and my mother in 2015. And yet, when I wake up here – usually just before sunrise – I feel pangs of homesickness that I didn’t think I’d feel at this point in my life.
“Heart thoughts are profound, hindsight aches and hope is obscure. I’m craving a great adventure — one that leads me back home.”― Donna Lynn Hope