The door to the Starbucks in the business district of Bogotá, Colombia is a portal to home. I unwillingly walked through that portal a couple of weeks ago while on my lunch break.
The whirl of coffee beans being pulverized overpowered the murmurs of Spanish trickling from the groups of finely dressed business people waiting for their overpriced coffee. I inhaled the same dizzyingly-perfect scent I used to smell when I lived in the United States.
As I was waiting for my iced latte, my mind momentarily snatched me from Colombia and dropped me into various Starbucks around Florida – the one near my old job that I would dash off to between reporting local news and attending meetings, the one near my old apartment that I would visit before heading into work on Saturdays, the one near my mother’s house in my hometown where I would research living in South America.
With every memory, my stomach tightened and my breathing became more labored. With every sense indulged in that coffee shop, my mind could not shake the painful wave of nostalgia that crashed over me.
I looked around, attempting to distract myself and fight the tears that were certainly about to well up in my eyes. The polished women and men around me knew nothing of the dull aching sensation in my chest as I remembered my old life. To them, I was just a young Colombian woman waiting for her coffee. They were unaware that I came to this country alone less than a year ago with only two bags, no job, no plan and intermediate Spanish. I wondered even if they knew, would they understand.
The barista slid me my drink. The iced latte tasted exactly the same as the one I sipped in Tampa International Airport while I waited to take my one-way flight to South America. Memories of home flooded back like a montage in a cheesy movie. Scenes of my old life flashed onto my mind’s screen and all I wanted was to shut it off because my old life was so dreadfully unobtainable – driving over the bridges that connect the beach community to the rest of my Florida city, wandering through the aisle of my favorite grocery store, giggling over drinks with my friends and coworkers.
It was all too much. I rushed passed the people lining up to place their drink orders and pushed through the door. The Florida sun did not greet me, instead gloomy clouds filled the sky.
I told my mother about my struggles with homesickness and how it seemed to plague me when I least expected it. It pained her to hear me describe my happiness as fleeting and delicate when happiness used to be an ever-present privilege I took for granted in the United States.
“Just come home,” she pleaded through tears while talking on the phone. Also in tears, I told her it didn’t feel like the right time to leave Colombia. I had found a job with a 2-year work visa, an apartment that I had just finished furnishing, a soccer team to play with and friends in the span of those 9 months and I wasn’t ready to give up on everything I had built in Colombia just because I missed home. I also explained that one of the reasons I moved here was to learn Spanish, and I was not yet fluent.
“Just come home,” she repeated, this time more frantic than before. “What do you have to prove?”
I explained that I wasn’t trying to prove anything. (If I were, I would not be writing about struggling with homesickness and instead I would only post pictures of my pretty furnished apartment and handsome dates on social media.)
I told her the reason I planned to stay in Colombia despite my overwhelming sadness for home is because I had come here with a goal of being fluent in Spanish and I intended to achieve that goal. I also have experienced a large amount of personal and professional growth and I know I’m not done improving.
Living abroad alone has changed my perspective of myself and the world around me and it seems like a cop-out to pack up and return to Florida just because this experience is uncomfortable at times. I am proud of the life I have built in Colombia in such a short amount of time and I wholeheartedly believe the pangs of homesickness will ease away soon.
In the meantime, when the choking nostalgia washes over me, I will attempt to remind myself to cherish the past while simultaneously looking towards the future.