Lately, I have been missing my friends and family in the states more and more. It has been nine months since I have been in California. I am not sure when I’ll be able to visit and nobody is very keen on visiting Sweden in winter. It’s hard seeing your family go on trips together or have family dinners together while you are on the other side of the world. And it is even more stressful not to even have a date when you know you’ll see them again.
I’ve been wondering if this is homesickness or if I am just missing people I am close with. I don’t fantasize about how my life would be now in California. But I do get nostalgic for how my life was in California. I reminisce about hiking with my friends in the hills around my hometown, driving around on boring weekend nights, the taste of the coffee from my favorite cafe, going to warehouse shows with my brothers, having the time just to kill time with friends. These are aspects of my concept of home. But those things don’t exist anymore.
I first moved to Uppsala in August of 2012 as an exchange student. All exchange and international students are in the same boat when they first come to Uppsala, they are looking for somewhere or something to do to feel like they are a part of the community, to find that safety net they can lean on. For me that was a student organization called Kalmar nation. Working at Kalmar gave me a place to be. A place to meet people, a place to challenge myself, a place where I could walk in and see someone I knew. A place where I fell in love. I felt at home in Uppsala. I missed friends, I missed family, I missed food. I missed the individual aspects that make up home but I didn’t miss home. Because I had built a new home in Sweden.
In August of 2013, I moved back to California. It was a jarring experience. The reverse culture shock reduced me to a malleable ball of anxiety. The home that I built in Uppsala was stripped from me. I was back to where I grew up but I felt alienated from everyone and everything. I could only relate with other students at my home university who also lived abroad. I’d have vivid dreams where I would be back in Uppsala, walking around the old streets, gazing at the river. Only to wake up and realize I was still in the suburban sprawl of Rohnert Park. The first few months back I noticed things that I never noticed before. That grinding of my former perceptions of where I grew up and my new perceptions shook me to my core. My singular goal was to do everything I could to get back to Uppsala.
After I finished university I did what most graduates in California do now, I moved in with my parents. During that year I worked and waited for my residency permit in Sweden to be approved. The reverse culture shock had disappeared by the time I moved back in with my parents, but living in the house you grew up in really makes you reflect on what home is. Seeing the town I grew up in changing, seeing my childhood pets grow old and pass away, friend groups slowly drifting apart as the bond that connected us fades in everyone’s memory, seeing good friends move away and pursue their dreams. I would often go by places that would trigger feelings of nostalgia. Driving by friend’s old house I would remember the time that we spent an afternoon swimming in his apartment’s pool and eating chinese food. That chinese restaurant doesn’t exist anymore. It has been replaced by new restaurants three times over. When this nostalgia was triggered while living at home it usually manifested itself in sadness. It made me realize the transient quality of my concept of home. This place I grew up wasn’t home for me anymore. The shell was still there, but most of the things that made it home were gone.
When I moved back to Uppsala, knew it wouldn’t be the same as the first time. I knew I wouldn’t have feel the same excitement as I did as an exchange student. I knew that I was facing an uphill battle trying to learn Swedish and find work. I knew the darkness and the weather couldn’t be laughed off as a fun and exciting adventure. But when I came back to Uppsala, I finally felt like I was home again.