Tuesday the 10th our group headed back to Gabs for one last night together in the Oasis Motel, where we stayed our first night in Gabs. I roomed with my friend Wendi again- things really came full circle! We got back pretty late, so we only had time for dinner, to repack our stuff, and to say some goodbyes. We wrote each other letters for the airplane and exchanged them that night in Valentine’s Day fashion. We also reflected on our favorite memories of our time together. It’s funny how a few weeks ago, I was so desperate to get home, and now I find myself wishing for a few more days. It was so much harder to say goodbye than I would have imagined. To the people and surprisingly, to the place. Let me just say there were lots and lots of tears. I’ve had to say goodbye many times in my life, but this time proved the hardest by far. We’re spread all across the country and the weirdest part is that there is no “next time”. I better start rebuilding my bank account so I can make some cross-country flights soon!
Wednesday morning, an Oasis shuttle took me to the airport for my departure. A few of my friends were on the same flight out of Gabs. As I drove away from Oasis, from some of the closest and most genuine friends I’ve ever had, and from the city where I’ve spent the past four and a half months, I couldn’t stop crying. I was so incredibly excited to get home, but that didn’t make leaving any easier. The trip home was an emotional rollercoaster. Our flight out of Gabs was delayed three hours, but at least I had some company. When we finally made it to Johannesburg, we gathered in a café and I did some last minute souvenir shopping. Then came another round of tearful goodbyes and I set off for the rest of my journey home alone. My flight from Johannesburg to Istanbul went quite smoothly. It was on time, I was able to sleep, and I sat by a really sweet girl from Germany. When we landed, we were greeted by a massive amount of snow. My thin jacket and sandals were not quite adequate for the weather. I was FREEZING. I had some trouble figuring out where to go in the airport because workers kept giving me different directions. The language barrier sure didn’t help. I then got interrogated by a passport control worker asking me tons of questions about where I was coming from, what I was carrying, etc. It was overwhelming and I found it challenging to keep myself together. Then I had the brilliant idea to read my airplane letters and that led to some uncontrollable sobbing. I’m pretty sure all of the other guests in Burger King thought I was insane. After eight hours in the Turkey airport, I finally set off for the good ole’ USA. I was giddy with excitement to see my family.
The flight from Istanbul to Chicago was the longest yet and because it was during the day, I wasn’t able to sleep too well. I was anxious to get home. I sat by an elderly lady from Macedonia. She was actually unable to speak English or Turkish so no one on the plane could understand her. I helped her to the bathroom, to order orange juice, and to fill out her US entry card. It was challenging to communicate, but I was able to learn what she meant through gestures over the 12 hours. She kept speaking to me in her language, though I clearly couldn’t understand. It was a pretty frustrating plane ride, but I’m glad I was able to help the sweet lady out. I landed in Chicago around 1am according to my time, but it was only 5pm Chicago time. Thursday turned out to be a 32-hour day! My few hours in the Chicago airport were amazing- it was so nice to be surrounded by a familiar language and food. I enjoyed my Chinese and diet coke more than you could possibly guess. My short flight back to Louisville was actually moved up an hour and I landed home around 10pm. The flight was full of anticipation and excitement. When we landed, I rushed towards baggage claim and ran into the open arms of my family. I can’t even describe how amazing it felt to be held by my mom, to hug my dad, and to laugh with my sisters. Even just in the airport, I felt so at home and like everything was right. Five months is a long time to be away from the place where I’ve spent my entire life.
I’ve now been home for almost two weeks. After a few days at home, it really hit me how much I miss my CIEE friends. It feels like there’s a missing piece. To my surprise, Gabs began to feel like home and though I’m not in a huge rush to jump on a plane back, I must admit I miss it a little bit. Perhaps it will get easier with time, or maybe it will just get harder. But regardless of this ache I have to see my long-lost friends, being home is incredible. I haven’t been this happy in a very long time. The smallest things amaze me. When I stepped in my house, I couldn’t believe how clean it was. It feels like a mansion. I still can’t get over my closet- there are so many options, it’s taking me forever to get dressed. Driving felt like a ride. I was nervous to get back on the highway, but I had no problems at all. I love cruising the streets and visiting all the places I’ve missed. I’m in food heaven. I’m slowly crossing all the restaurants I’ve missed off my list. I’m in awe of how full our refrigerator is and how delicious every meal is. It’s still hard to remember that I can shower as long as I want! And my laundry is clean and dry in just hours. I’m amazed by how polite everyone is and how quick and effective service is at stores and restaurants. My list could go on forever. It’s so nice to be comfortable again and most of all, to feel completely safe.
Most of all, I’m just enjoying spending time with my friends and family. Reuniting with a friend you haven’t seen in half a year is simply incredible. There’s so much to talk about and so much to do! I’ve been crazy busy since I’ve been home and haven’t gotten to spend as much time with my family as I would have liked. Still, I’m enjoying the little things like eating dinner as a family and helping my sister with her homework. Jet lag hasn’t completely worn off, so I’m still pretty exhausted. I started back to work at Pier 1 and I’m trying to get things together for next semester at WKU. I’m slowly adjusting back to normal life and enjoying every minute. I have five weeks at home before I’ll head back to school and I plan to make the most of every day. I hope I’ll be able to move forward and bring some of my new perspective from studying abroad with me.
Tonight, my family opened our Hanukkah presents (just a few weeks late!) because we were all together again for the first time. My dad made me a bound book of my blog entries. When I opened it, I began sobbing. What a wonderful gift! Though I’m so delighted to be home and only happier and more thankful every day, I’m sad my study abroad experience is over. It may have been challenging, but it was also some of the most meaningful, eye-opening, and incredible months of my life. Gabs will always hold a special place in my heart.