Not to Mistake Nostalgia for Homesickness

My university career has been divided quite sharply into distinct eras: The Year of Freshman Shenanigans, The Year of RA Shenanigans, The Year of Study Abroad Chaos, and now The Year of I Think I’m an Adult (tentatively titled since I’m only halfway through).  As the names suggest, my Costa Rica year kind of threw everything I think I am up into the air, and I’m still trying to figure out how it landed.  However, one thing I do know is that for better or worse, I left my pure shenanigans phase behind.

Through a series of events, I ended up running with a resident assistant pack for a bit last week, which was at once familiar and strange.  I walked past my old dorm room, crashed in the back office of my old residence hall, made faces at the elevator camera on the off-chance whoever was working desk was looking, instinctively checked to make sure maintenance closets were locked as I walked by, and questioned my friend who still works and lives in housing if her crockpot is on the approved list of appliances (it is, don’t worry).

RAs are always RAs, and when you’re an RA, there’s always this lovely housing community where at least five of your friends are in the same building as you at any given moment.  It’s an extrovert’s paradise and it feels like home.  It was pretty easy to fall back into that for an evening, but it’s also weird because I was with people who aren’t my people, who have a type of life isn’t mine anymore.

I lay awake last night wondering if I had made a terrible decision in not coming back as an RA.  You have to admit, it’s a pretty sweet deal to not have to pay for housing and food, and I could definitely use the money I’d save to get me to Germany.  And let’s be real.  I miss the shenanigans.  But at the same time, I’ve moved on to another phase of my life and I know I’ll never go back.

Somewhere in my college years I’ve become more aware of this unsettling feeling of nostalgia.  People told me, and I read in blogs that after studying abroad, I would always be homesick for a foreign country, homesick for the food, the language, the people, the dancing, the beauty of a foreign land.  I even wrote a post way back in the middle of my year abroad about how I was afraid I would miss my new home after leaving for good.  And I do miss it.  I went to a Latino dance club with some friends a couple of weeks ago because I missed salsa dancing.  It didn’t live up to my expectations, not because it wasn’t fun, or the band wasn’t good, but rather because of little things that added up and hit me when I walked out the door and into a parking lot, rather than onto the familiar sidewalks of Heredia.  I don’t miss Costa Rica; I miss the life I had while I was there.

It’s not homesickness (as much as I’m convinced I’m now part Tica).  I’ve had homesickness before, and it’s a lot more uncomfortable.  Homesickness is a mix of helplessness, expectation, prioritizing, and waiting.  But most importantly, it’s knowing that I’m missing a part of me that I will always need, and it hurts almost physically.

No, I feel nostalgia for Costa Rica, just like I feel nostalgia for my RA life and high school athletics.  Nostalgia can be mostly a nice feeling, a mix of longing, memories of being content and belonging.  The problem is, when we don’t recognize bygone eras for what they are, regret and a nagging feeling of “I should be there” makes nostalgia feel an awful lot like homesickness.

I guess part of growing up is learning to let go.  But hey.  I interpret nostalgia as evidence of a life well-lived (so far).

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