(This post is by Bri, Mills College)
As a member of the generation indoctrinated by the likes of Lizzie McGuire and the Olsen twins, I had many expectations for my time abroad such as riding on the back of some carelessly handsome man’s moped, or eating a baguette in a strapless dress, etc. The biggest obstacle I foresaw was the inevitable and heart wrenching decision I was going to be faced with: stay with my Portuguese boyfriend and commit to an indefinite future of Skype dates and long-distance, or tragically part ways with him at the Lisbon airport (still searching for said-Portuguese boyfriend.)
This perception (and expectation) I had of myself; the American girl who travels to the European continent for her self-actualization while also begrudgingly falling in love with a local- wasn’t totally inaccurate. I have actualized many personal feats (commuting on public transit effortlessly, being one) and I did fall in love. However, some Portuguese man was spared the misfortune of having me as a significant other, and instead, I fell in love with something else entirely: I came to love my family all over again.
I was reacquainted with a concept almost as foreign to me as the new country I lived in- family. Prior to my transatlantic voyage, I had believed myself to be a callous, independent woman, whose dry economics degree reflected her interpersonal skills (still holds true.) Stateside, I communicated with my family via text periodically, because I thought that love and gratitude could not be measured in correspondence, but were instead genetic givens, or so I believed.
Every glossy brochure and alum promised me my time abroad would “change my life!” And while I don’t doubt this experience’s capacity to do that, I don’t think I foresaw the change that would occur.
When our program toured the largest vineyard in Portugal, I bought a bottle of Syrah, recollecting the time my parents and I shared a bottle in a dimly lit, Portland restaurant. When I took the tram to Belem, I passed the Golden Gate Bridge’s replica, and thought of my sister, who’s dorm window overlooks the other Golden Gate Bridge some 6,000 miles away. The Portuguese port, people, and pastries are just as incredible as they were built up to be. But no matter where I go, I find that I carry my family with me.
My renewed love and appreciation for my family isn’t an endearing but temporary side effect of homesickness. It is a part of my individual growth that I never foresaw when jamming sundresses and floppy hats into my suitcase so many months ago. I’ll attribute it to my American individualism, but I never thought that part of my self-discovery would be growing closer to others. While I’m embracing each day I have in Portugal, I realized that no cuisine, geographic location, or European man could bring me the same happiness and fulfillment as my family does. It just took 6,000 miles to bring me that much closer to home.