The student above looks happy, healthy, and a tad bit darker because of the Andalusian sun. As the student pictured above, I can confirm that I am happy, healthy, and still seeing the effects of the Andalusian sun of my skin. However, despite my wonderful beach trip two weekends ago to the close-by city of Málaga, Spain, this photo misses the full story. For a few weeks, two or three, más o menos, I have felt terribly homesick. Though I don’t feel homesick in the traditional sense. As a summer camp counselor, older sister and education major, I know a thing or two about homesickness, but I can’t seem to find the cure for my own problem.
I’m certainly not homesick in the physical sense. I have heard horror stories from co-workers about children wetting the bed, I have nurtured pre-teens when they feel restless at night, and I have called on nurses to ease stomach aches all in the name of homesickness. On the contrary, I feel quite the opposite. I (try to) go to the gym at least five times a week. My host mom feeds me tasty, healthy, vegetarian food. I (try to) get eight hours of sleep every day. I physically feel amazing, but something still feels off in my head. I know I won’t find a stomach relief pill or a summer camp nurse to ease my pains.
My homesickness doesn’t follow typical emotional patterns either. Mom, dad, little sister, littler sister, step-dad, best friend, college friends, and (a few) high school friends: I love you all, and sure, I miss you, but I know I’ll see you when I get back, so I’m not exactly longing to return to the United States (U.S.) for that reason. I do not lose sleep at night reminiscing on my life in the U.S. (remember: eight hours of sleep). If anything, I’m enjoying the more relaxed lifestyle of los granadinos. Most people whose homesickness manifests itself in an emotional way, cry, lash out at others, or reject their new environment. Once again, I’m not following this trend.
After reflecting on my homesickness from a physical and emotional perspective, I considered the option that maybe I’m not homesick. Maybe I’m suffering from culture shock instead. Though, almost as soon as that thought entered my brain, I eliminated the option. I have little complaints about my daily lifestyle here in Spain. I have my ideal housing situation with a hilariously, outspoken host mom who cooks, cleans, and does my laundry for me, I actually enjoy my Spanish grammar class at 8:30 a.m., I’m starting research at my internship in a local Spanish school, and the culture in Granada encourages people echarse una siesta (translation: to take a nap). As a self-proclaimed clean freak, conversationalist, and avid napper, the Spanish culture fits me well. Even with the differences of culture in Granada, like most major businesses closing on Sunday and not having 24/7 convenience stores, I embrace its differences to my life in the U.S. So, if not homesickness or culture shock, then what exactly is my problem?
I feel culture-sick. I’m not homesick because I don’t have a person, place, or feeling that I miss to the point of agony. I’m not experiencing culture shock because I’m embracing the favorable aspects of culture in Granada alongside its inconveniences. I’ve concluded that I’m culture-sick because I truly miss my culture. I don’t meet people from the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) too often in my daily life, and I wasn’t expecting many people from Spain to know about the USVI (fun fact: my host mom already knew about the USVI). However, I didn’t think I would miss my culture this strongly.
At first, I jokingly started a list of things I miss from the U.S. since I go to school in Florida and only return to the USVI to visit family. My list started with the supermarket, Target, and continued with Publix (a well-known supermarket based in Florida) brand lemonade. As my time grew in Granada, my list began to stray from American conveniences to Caribbean desires. I miss rice and beans (done Caribbean style, preferably called rice and peas), the Soca music my dad plays on repeat in his car, the Rastafarian, vegetarian-friendly food my step-dad always finds for me, the typical Caribbean phrases my mom says that make no sense literally, and the everlasting warm weather. I also miss my younger sister telling me I’m out of the loop and teaching me Atlanta slang, I miss my even younger sister begging me to play supermarket “one last time,” and I miss talking to my college friends until the early hours in the morning about Florida politics, relationships, psychology, hip-hop music, and whatever else comes to mind. Altogether, I miss the giant mix of cultures that make up my unique culture. The Afro-Caribbean origins, the early Florida upbringing, the adolescent years in Georgia, and the young adulthood return to Florida that makes me unique.
I’ve accepted this new kind of homesickness and I’m calling it culture-sickness. Though I’m not calling it a problem anymore. Surely I have a dilemma. It can feel isolating not having anyone around me who shares even a piece of my culture. However, rather than making it an issue, I’ll make a mission. During this study abroad experience, I will continue to learn about cultures outside of my own without losing my strong sense of cultural identity. When I return to the U.S. for my sister’s high school graduation, I’m sure the whole family will catch me up on everything I missed while in Granada.