I have taken home for granted for my entire life. Sleep-away camp, boarding school, and even college never fazed me because I always knew I simply had to open my phone, select the contacts named “Momma” or “Popsicles,” and I could hear what I considered home. Studying abroad in Europe has changed that dynamic quite a bit. The internet is spotty here, international calling costs more than a meal, and the time difference makes everything complicated.
I used to think homesickness was something felt by other people, but never by me. I was always the one called into a friend’s room at 2 a.m. to console them. A hug, a heartfelt conversation, and then, once their door closed behind me, the homesickness stayed cooped up in their room. That’s why, when I started feeling a tugging on my heart, I panicked, confused about what was going on.
It all started the morning we left for the first group excursion to Amsterdam. Waking up at the crack of dawn, wildly throwing together what I had neglected to pack the night before, and rushing down the stairs to grab a bite to eat before being crammed in a seat for hours is how I grew up going on trips. Such a familiar routine, one usually coordinated by my dad, threw my mind back across the Atlantic Ocean and into the arms of my family, with no physical family to hold me. That one thing reminded me of everything I left behind to live in Europe for three months. As excited as I was to visit Amsterdam, my mind was stuck back home, looking for anything to settle my racing thoughts and aching heart.
Once our bus pulled up at our hostel, we hopped on a tram to visit the Rijksmuseum downtown, but that wasn’t the important part. The important part was when we got to Dam Square, the concrete-covered, Boston Common-esque central point of Amsterdam.
It always seems to be the strangest things that spark memories of home. The comparison to the Common is easy, but it was the pigeons that really made it feel similar. The pigeons with no fear. The pigeons that waddle up to tourists’ feet and try to take the food from their hands. The way they swarmed the entire area, essentially claiming the square as their own, made me feel like a piece of home had shown itself to me, almost like a response to my homesickness.
When it was finally time to go off for lunch, my friends and I headed out of the square, and passed the one thing I absolutely did not expect to see: a New York Pizza. A real, live New York Pizza. That greasy, probably-not-actually-made-of-pizza pizza, open until 4 a.m., insane place that I’ve spent more money than I’ll willingly admit was staring back at me from across the street. It’s hard to explain exactly what I felt at that moment. But my only reaction after staring, stunned, was laughter. My homesickness melted away, leaving behind nothing but love for this new city. I flew across an ocean to live in a castle and experience European life, and I was met with the realization that all people, no matter what continent they’re on, appreciate greasy late-night food. It was such a solace.
Sometimes it’s the little things that get us through the challenges we have in our own minds. Other times it’s eating nasty pizza after the sunsets with your best friends.