I thought returning home might feel surreal after being gone so long. And I suppose there was a note of strangeness in the moments following my initial disembarkation; being surrounded by the familiar accent, interacting with border control officers who actually looked at my passport, and making calls from my American phone number all seemed a bit new. But as soon as I set foot in my house, all that fell away and I was entirely submerged in my old life. Even driving, which I was sure would be somewhat difficult, or at least nerve-wracking at first, felt as normal to me as ever. In fact, in my two weeks at home I found myself wondering if the past three months had even happened, or if I had a European life at all.
For the first time in months, I was completely and totally comfortable.
I am so, so grateful for those two weeks. I got to help trim the tree, sing Silent Night on Christmas Eve, and squeeze fresh orange juice for brunch the next morning, surrounded all the while by my incredible, supportive family. I reunited with my old travel partner, Emma, and walked around her neighborhood for hours, just like we have during every sleepover since the seventh grade.* I baked sugar cookies with Meredith and her brother’s cat and got trapped in my L.L. Bean boots. I was enchanted by Longwood Gardens, as I am every year, this time with Ania and Sean, who drove an hour to see me because he couldn’t make our New Year’s plan. I rang in 2016 on a roof in Queens with my badass girl gang and spent the first of the year wandering aimlessly through two boroughs, trying to decide what to do but not needing to do anything. I celebrated my twenty-third birthday in front of a fire with my dog and my favorite cake. All was perfect.
On my flight back to Prague, I was somehow lucky enough to get upgraded to first class. I was tickled by the welcome-aboard mimosa, massage chair, and tiny salt and pepper shakers, but mostly I was thankful for my private cubby by the window, because as soon as the wheels left the ground, the weight of all I was leaving behind hit me, and I was seized by a display of emotion the likes of which I have never showed in public.
When I arrived here, though, I already had already begun to feel better. I was greeted by the same twinge of familiarity I felt when returning from London
(plus Cody) and the ground was bundled in a coat of snow, which felt sort of like Prague’s little gift just for me.**
Still, it is strange to be here without Kim, and for the first time, I feel homesick; I didn’t realize how much I missed everyone and everything until I was granted just a taste of them. Sometimes, when I think of the next nine months, I feel utterly exhausted and unsure of what I am doing here. In New York, I saw many of my Penn State friends beginning their careers, finding their footing, and here I am, bumbling about.
Today I decided to walk a new route back to my apartment. There were many stairs, my butt complained, and I was out of breath, but at last I turned a corner and was greeted by a breathtaking view of this spectacular city. I stood on a bench for a while, feeling perfectly calm, not comfortable—calm. It brought me back to what I’d lost sight of lately: this isn’t about comfort. This is about strength. This is about building myself, and that means being afraid sometimes. I’m beyond lucky to have such a strong support system back at home, and it’s easy to miss them, but they will still be there when I come back, and I can still lean on them, even from the opposite side of the world. But this is the only time for this.
So it’s time to stop sulking! The rest of this year is going to be amazing, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
*Only this time for some reason it was sixty-five degrees instead of snowy.
**Then I was immediately fined on the metro for not having a valid transport pass, like, "welcome home, Laurel Ann, now screw you lol"