An interesting thing happened during my first session of Population and Community Ecology. My professor stood up in front of class and introduced herself and talked a little bit about her favorite habitat/ecosystem/biome. We then had to stand up, say our name and our favorite habitat/ecosystem/biome. Naturally, I said my favorite ecosystem was the Páramo, a high altitude ecosystem found in Central and South America. Nobody knew what I was talking about except the professor, and then I felt a small twang in my chest. Similar to the feeling I get when it’s getting close to fall break and I cannot wait to see my dogs, or when I haven’t seen any friends for a while. After we finished the exercise, the professor starts up her slide show about terrestrial biomes and what else would the slide show start with other than the Tropical Rainforest.
In that moment I knew what I felt. Looking at the tall trees and plant diversity within the photos made me feel a little homesick for Costa Rica – where I studied last semester. I explored coral reefs, wet forests, dry forest, montane forests along with numerous plants, animals, and insects. When our textbook chapter started discussing the extinction of mega fauna, I all but messaged my professor. We spent an entire lecture learning about mega fauna and theories about their extinction. Then the textbook went into aquatic ecosystems, and what else appears except for mangroves – I visited all three types of mangroves while in Costa Rica.
It is odd to feel homesick when I’m home – The College of Wooster is basically my second home. When breaks approach, I’m not yearning to go to my house. I want to see my family and friends yes, but actually wanting to be in my hometown and in my house? It’s not my top priority. That’s probably why it took me a while to figure out what I was feeling, why would I ever feel homesick when I’m home? The first thing people ask me when they see me is, “How was your semester abroad?” Normally, I mention something about how I loved it, but it is also great to be home. So when I went in for a shift change at work I was talking with my friend about my semester and I made the statement, “It was so great. I loved getting to see all of the cool ecosystems and organisms and everything. I love Ohio, but Ohio is just a forest and corn.” Of course we both laughed, but it’s true. Nothing beats getting to study in a place where new things are being found literally all the time.
I’m sure other students feel the same way. You make food that reminds you of your host country – I haven’t figured out how to make gallo pinto in a dining hall but I’m trying. Every chance you get you talk about your experience. Perhaps someone says something that reminds you of an inside joke. You miss the days of having a lecture while hiking or shoving nine students plus two professors into your TA’s hotel room to have lecture (okay that only happened once but I doubt it will ever happen again in my college career). While I go to a small school where students often have great, personal relationships with faculty, I know I will never be as close to any other professors than the ones that taught me while abroad. I cannot think of a single professor who would eat almost every meal with me – you really get to know someone when they come back from field research sweaty and ready to scarf down food.
I’m homesick for the culture. I’m homesick for driving through endless mountains, for seeing a monkey on the side of the street, for speaking broken Spanglish to my host mother. Most importantly, I’m homesick for the carefreeness of Costa Rica. For the attitude of “Pura Vida,” that life is something you soak up. Another friend of mine was abroad over the summer, and she mentioned that she was just living while abroad, not worrying about life and what needs to be done. Maybe that is what happens when you decide to go abroad – what happens will happen and you are abroad so why to try stop the fun? Or maybe it is just the feeling of escaping The United State’s attitude that everything must be done perfectly all the time. We are a country of hard workers, but sometimes I wonder if we work too hard. I think it’s a bit of both ideologies that make studying abroad so in the moment.
So to all my study abroad students who are returning back to campus this semester, you are not alone in feeling homesick for your host country. I would do anything to hop back on a plane to Costa Rica right now to see the country again. To just sit and relax by the beach one more time, or to be sitting in a room writing a paper one more time, knowing that outside awaits more species than I will ever be able to name. When I flew out of Costa Rica, I took one last look out the window right before take off and immediately started crying. Not even like a tear up – a full on ugly cry. The flight attendant asked me if I was okay, and said yes, because I was mostly okay. Nothing was hurting me, and there was not much she could do for me, however I was mostly crying because it was then that my heart started aching for a small country that I will always consider to be one of my homes. I will always remember the last thing my host mom said to me, “Keep your card with my address and phone number. If you ever come to visit, you call okay? Even in 20 years I promise you I will not move so you can come visit.” Someday, I will go visit, but until then, my heart will ache for the little country that is the size of Virginia.