An expanded version of this entry was originally posted May 13, 2011, at Out of Great Joy and is republished with permission of the author. Sarah taught English in Cieszyn, Poland, as an ELCA volunteer teacher from 2009 to 2011. This post was written during Sarah’s last month in Poland before returning to Chicago.
“Are you excited to go home?”
It’s a deceptively straightforward question, always asked with the best of intentions, but I’m finding that it’s a bit difficult to answer.
Am I excited to go home to Chicago after two years of teaching in Cieszyn, Poland? The answer is yes! yes! yes!
Except wait. I’m also home here. Now. Am I excited to go home? I am very excited to go home (Chicago). I am also terribly sad that to go home (Chicago) I need to leave this home (Cieszyn).
Although I don’t get into a philosophical discussion with people when they ask me, “Are you excited to go home?” the question has led me to examine how I define the word “home.”
Perhaps it’s easiest to start with what home isn’t, or isn’t always. “Home” is not always synonymous with “where you live now.” “Home” is not always synonymous with “birthplace.”
What’s interesting about the concept of “home” is that we’re not only talking about a physical location like a specific city or country, but also an emotional state — feeling “at home.”
When I reflect back on my arrival in Cieszyn two years ago, I realize now that I felt so overwhelmed, stressed and lonely at the beginning because I felt utterly homeless. I’d just left two wonderful American homes: my Chicago home and, as a recent college graduate, my university home.
How does it become ‘home’?
A town doesn’t automatically become your “home” just because it’s your current physical location. On Facebook you can change the “current city” listed on your profile in 3 seconds, but you can’t change where you feel at home so easily.
My first few months in Poland I had to work very hard to find a home — it didn’t happen automatically or overnight. But over time I discovered my purpose here, found my place, connected with people I felt “at home” with.
And then one night I went to bed in Cieszyn and woke up at home.
I think we spend our entire lives searching for homes: emotional homes, physical homes, spiritual homes. We enter new jobs, new schools, move to new cities, meet new people, and in the process we find homes, lose homes, search for new homes.
I think we have an innate need to find “homes” wherever we are, that we can’t help but desire that sense of belonging, safety, security and familiarity we get from having somewhere to call “home.”
When I return to Chicago in June, I know I’m going to experience the dreaded “RE-ENTRY CULTURE SHOCK” (I always picture this phrase written in scary capital letters).
And when it comes down to it, I suspect that “re-entry culture shock” is a fancy term for homesickness.
I know I’m going to miss my Polish home and everything that made it feel like a home for the past two years — the everyday, seemingly mundane things, like my favorite fruit and vegetable stand and the sound of the church bells in the evening.
But I know that what I’m going to miss the most is the people I love who made me feel “at home” here — my students, my friends, my colleagues.
Adjusting to a new ‘home’
I know I’m going to miss home (Cieszyn) when I go home (Chicago) and that I’m going to miss all the big things (people I love) and the little things (the sights, sounds, smells and tastes) that made Cieszyn my home.
But this summer in Chicago when I find myself feeling a little discouraged and a little homesick, I’m going to remember that I felt exactly the same way when I first arrived in Cieszyn.
And I’m going to put on my “explorer cap” and go out in Chicago and find the “home” that’s waiting for me there. I’m going to seek out new adventures, new challenges, new delights, new people, new favorite spots, new cultural activities and new educational opportunities.
I’m also going to rejoice that I’m returning to all my “Chicago favorites” — family! friends! public libraries! theatre! lectures! yoga! Pad Thai!
In Jesting Pilate Aldous Huxley wrote: “Fishes do not marvel at water; they are too busy swimming in it.”
I’m excited that with this sad-yet-exciting, wonderful-yet-a-little-scary re-entry I’m getting the chance to marvel at the “water” (i.e., Chicago) I’m going to swim in again.
I can’t wait to reconnect with my old-yet-new, familiar-yet-unfamiliar home — my sweet home Chicago.
Sarah Griebler is a 2009 graduate of Lawrence University who is currently teaching English in Cieszyn, Poland, as an ELCA Global Mission Volunteer. When she finishes her term of service in June 2011, she plans to continue working in the field of education, hopefully in the Chicago area where there are many opportunities for her to stay connected with the Polish culture and language.