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  • Writer's pictureCassie Hintz

Home is Where the ________ is (Feeling at Home Abroad)

There’s a reason why being in unfamiliar places gets easier with time. It’s one of the most difficult yet most rewarding parts of travel. Immersing in another culture is, by definition, stepping outside of your comfort zone. And it is the best thing one can do for personal growth.

As indescribably blissful as the opportunity to travel is, and as wonderful and important as it is to experience new things, sometimes we crave feeling “at home”. Culture shock is as real as it is manageable. It is different for everyone, but if approached correctly, it can be an incredible source of strength.

As I gain experience traveling, spending longer periods of time out of country, I notice how exponentially more comfortable and happy I am upon arrival. On one hand, it’s true that it’s just a matter of getting used to the emotions that come with it. Now that I can anticipate how I’ll feel, I can rationalize it and turn unhelpful feelings into productive feelings, such as excitement and ambition. With anything, it just takes practice.

Glacier National Park, near my home in Montana

But I’ve also learned how to carry “home” with me, and to find it where ever I go. I’m not talking about ignoring your new environment — quite the opposite. I think you ought to throw yourself into every new culture with reckless abandon. But this is hard to achieve if you have a nagging feeling of wanting to be somewhere else with other comforts. The more you can be at home within yourself the more freedom you give your soul to travel and explore.

For example, the aforementioned feelings now feel like an old friend. Whereas before I interpreted them as bad and scary, I now appreciate that these feelings mean I’m getting the opportunity to experience totally new things, and that is the most comforting thought I can imagine. Likewise, as you experience more you accumulate more places and things that feel like “home”. It’s a beautiful and fruitful cycle.

My train pulled into the Murcía train station ending the marathon journey from Montana to Spain. Alone and awake for two days, I craved care and comfort.

The cathedral in Murcia, Spain

My landlords said they’d pick me up, but I didn’t have a phone or know their names or what they looked like. So I stood with all of my luggage waiting for someone who was looking for me, hoping they’d find me. Shortly I was approached by a small Spanish gentleman with white hair and glasses, saying my name and smiling. Steps behind him, with fiery enthusiasm, was his equally adorable wife reaching for a hug. She kissed my cheeks saying “mi encanta“, meaning “my love”, and told me that she would be my Spanish mother (mama Carmen). All of the stress and worry and exhaustion evaporated in the face of their kindness.

There are many ways to encapsulate what home is to each individual. Knowing I have a surrogate family eased my stress, especially after the amazing experience of living with a host family in Morocco (which felt impossible to adapt to at first, and is now the embodiment of home).

Other, more tangible elements give me a rush of comfort, like trying the coffee wherever I go, or watching people skateboard in different countries, or hanging out with other students. Murcia has a river dividing the center of town, just like my town. There are mountains nearby, which are an incomparable comfort to someone from Montana (for those who don’t know, montaña means mountain in Spanish). Being outside, among nature, is where I feel most at home. And I take great solace in the fact that this is a constant country to country. It’s a language that we all speak.

Never fear leaving the familiar. Traveling allows you to compare and contrast, focusing on what connects us just as much as celebrating our differences. The more of the world you take in, the smaller it gets. The more you open your mind, the greater your perspective. And the more you travel, the more places you are able to call “home” Back to Blog Home



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