Spring semester, junior year; last spring, I studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain for the entire semester. Toward the end I was ready to go home. Ready to stop living out of a suitcase, or a backpack. Ready to have the same ground under my feet for a while.
Being in a country where you can’t fully express your emotions and feelings becomes exhausting. You constantly feel a cultural discomfort. Never sure, never secure, never feeling right. Never feeling known, acknowledged, part of the community. Not knowing where you are. No relatives, no connections, no co-worker down the street. No memories attached to the streets, to the paths you take. To the way to the río. To restaurants, to parks, to curbs and crosswalks. No sense of belonging. No sense of permanent existence. Not being able to locate your confidence, security, self-esteem. Your feet are always teetering on some edge, never firmly on the ground.
“I am intelligent, I just can’t get my ideas out fast enough. I understood you, I’m just thinking of what to respond with and how to say it.” Es que entiendo todo lo que dices pero, necesito tiempo para pensar en la respuesta, sabes?
Not grasping either language. The awareness that I am not like you. I have been shaped in a different direction. Molded by another manipulation.
Yet, when I came back to the United States I felt disconnected, like I had no purpose. Lonely.
I didn’t feel like I belonged in Spain, but I didn’t feel like I belonged here either. I wasn’t part of either culture. I wasn’t quite sure what space to occupy, or if there was even any room for me anymore.
My two friends, Sydney and Leah, picked me up from JFK to bring me to Uniondale to see all the Hofstra people. We stopped at Napolini’s for pizza. I was so lost. I was so confused as to why everyone was speaking English all around me. Not just English, but American Northeast English. The, “where you at” “word” “nah, man” English. It was blowing my mind.
I hadn’t the slightest idea how to communicate with the man behind the counter that I wanted a plain slice of pizza, to go, and that I was paying with debit. Cus cash? What was cash? That American money. Whoah. So small, why is it green? So monochromatic, who’s that face?
A misstep, a bumped shoulder, “huy perdon,” ah, you can’t say that here.
My little stint at Hofstra wasn’t when it hit me though. Probably because I was in a daze, a who-knows-how-many-day-long substance-fueled bender. What do you do when you’re at school without the class? A liminal space, an in-between. A place you don’t have a purpose to be in.
When I came home, that’s when it hit me. The summer hadn’t quite started. I hadn’t started working yet. I was home a bit too early. Another place I wasn’t yet meant to be. Another place without a purpose.
I had just seen so much of the world, developed relationships and a nomad lifestyle. I smoked Moroccan hash under the stars on the dunes of the Sahara Desert. I wandered around Rome, stumbling into textbook pages. I was serenaded by a Florentine man as he led me to a jazz club where we drank gin limoneeees. I made acquaintances with the Mona Lisa, with the sketches of a young Picasso in his home city. Got told by an Irish fellow that he liked my hair as I stumbled from pizza place to pub in Dublin. The pizza place where they recognized me ‘cause I went back the next night. Got told what to call the moon in Berber (the language of the North-African tribe that inhabits Morocco) as I traded bracelets with the one who told me. I discovered the Portuguese equivalent of Bourbon Street, whose inhabitants spilled out into the cobble-stoned street, drinks in hand; surrounding taxis on the way home like a mob of zombies, nudging each other along. I came across fireworks displays, drums, and firecrackers, filling Barcelona’s plazas with speckles of dancing light and life. I gained VIP status at a little mojito place behind my apartment in la Alameda de Hércules, “un Rocco Siffredi por favor, ya tú sabes, mucha gracia.”
But now I was sitting on a couch in Brielle, New Jersey wondering what the point of it all was. With no one to talk to about it. No one who would understand, who’s mind would be able to conjure up those images, scents, sounds, feelings.
I would start sentences that didn’t make sense. My brain was still getting used to English. Bacalao, fresas, no me di cuenta, no pasa nada. What’s another word for that? No, not the Spanish word, I need an English synonym. Do people say that?
I was a foreigner in my own home, who wasn’t sure what home meant anymore.
It’s as if you’re standing on the other side of the street from everyone. You’re looking at the same things, but from a different angle, your perspective is from a different view, yet still close enough to relate.
All this energy detoured onto another path. Another life to get used to.
Human beings are a species that can get used to anything. That was just what I had done. I had gotten used to uncertainty, to inconsistency, changeability, constantly not knowing where I was, where I was going. There was no straight line I was following; I was serpentining, doubling back and then sprinting off in other directions.
But now I was back to consistency, to sameness, to stability, to egg white omelet with spinach every morning, followed by a day lacking in purpose, lacking in tasks to complete. Waking up too late, except there is no too late. There is no place to be late to. Yet feeling like there should be a ‘you’re gonna be late to.’
Left with a new definition of loneliness. A loneliness of the mind, a loneliness of experience. Lonely, lonely, not lonely, but alone. Thoughtfully alone.
Author: Meghan Maldjian
Author Bio: A 21-year-old surfer and artist who speaks Spanish and enjoys traveling the world.
Link to social media or website: http://megista.tumblr.com | https://www.instagram.com/meghanmaldjian/