This summer I was lucky enough to spend five weeks back in my home state of Minnesota. It was the first time I had returned since I moved to Amsterdam more than a year ago, and I definitely made the most of it. I spent quality time with my family, many days catching up with friends, and every free minute relaxing on one of the many gorgeous lakes Minnesota is known for. It was great to be back.
Before I left Amsterdam, I was incredibly excited for my return, but also a bit worried. The last time I experienced a big homecoming was after spending 18 months away. During that time I had lived and taught in South Korea, volunteered in Thailand, and traveled extensively throughout Southeast Asia and Europe. I remember how excited I had been to return to the place that had been so comfortable for me for most of my life, and how shocked I was with the reverse culture shock that greeted me. I felt like a foreigner in my own country and, well, I didn't like it.
So this time, I mentally prepared. I anticipated a similar feeling and was ready for it to knock me off my feet. I'm not sure if it was my preparation that worked or the fact that I psyched myself out more than necessary, but that feeling I anxiously awaited never came. On the contrary, it felt great to be back in Minnesota. I was surprised by how natural everything felt and I was elated to surround myself with the people who have played such important roles in my life for as long as I can remember.
Though something did feel different. Each time I would see someone for the first time, they'd ask me how it was to be home. "It's great!" I'd say, but I felt a bit like I was lying. While it was great to be back, it didn't necessarily feel like I was home. Sure Minnesota is a comfortable place for me to be, and I certainly do feel at home in my parents' house, but it's not necessarily my home anymore. No, I thought, my home is my apartment in Amsterdam - that cozy little flat in which I live with my husband and our cute little feline. And as much as I loved every minute of my Minnesotan summer, I often found myself feeling homesick for my life in Amsterdam.
The five weeks passed, simultaneously slowly and quickly as time seems to do, and before I knew it I was on my way back to Amsterdam. I was sad to leave Minnesota, excited to return to Amsterdam, content with all the memories I had made, and completely unprepared for what was to come.
Almost immediately after I returned, I was completely, totally, unbelievably overcome with homesickness (I realize that this sentence is redundant, but that's the only way I can describe just how I felt). What's worse, I was utterly confused as to how I could be so completely, totally, unbelievably overcome with homesickness for a place that didn't even really feel like my home just a few weeks ago. Yes, part of me was glad to be back with my husband and our cute little feline, but I was also beside myself with loneliness for those I had left behind. I was consumed by feelings of sadness, and there was just no consoling me or working through my feelings logically. I spent about two days laying on the couch, trying to distract myself from myself, and suffering from what I can only describe as heartbreak.
And that's when it clicked. Through my jet-lagged fog and tear-bleary eyes, a time old saying popped into my head.
"Home is where your heart is."
Never had words spoken so truly or hurt so deeply. Home is most definitely where your heart is, and in my case (and the case of many expatriates, I'm sure), my heart was split right down the middle between two. I realized then that Minnesota most certainly is, and always will be, my home. Though I may not live there, my heart is there with my dear family and my irreplaceable friends, and that is enough to make it my home. But Amsterdam is also my home, as my heart is present here in this city and in the beautiful life I'm creating with my husband.
So what does that mean for a girl with a heart split down the middle? Well, I can't really say. I usually like to end my posts with a little lesson that I've learned from my experience, but this one isn't so clear yet. I know that I'm lucky to have such a full heart, but when your heart is torn, it's harder to feel the luckiness. I'm sure with time I'll be able to balance the two homes with more grace, but until then, I'm going to have to keep juggling.