Homecoming Blues

Elizabeth Coffman-Mackey
May 4, 2019

The moment the wheels touched down in Chicago O’Hare, I was officially back in the United States. From that moment till now, I have been back home, and returning has been weird.

One of my friends from Dublin messaged to ask the rest of us if it all felt dreamlike, all of a sudden, like we hadn’t even really been in Dublin for months. She said it was like Dublin was all something made up and we had never left, but at first, I felt the opposite. My life back in Indianapolis felt like the dream, and Dublin felt like the reality to which I was waiting to return.

Over the past week and a half, through settling in, I’ve felt less estranged from my life in the United States. Some parts of settling in have been easy. For one thing, coming home to American food has been a treat. Starting about a month and a half into the study abroad semester, my flatmates and I started to list the food we missed when we got homesick. Panera Bread, lemon shake-ups, Sour Patch Kids, we would sit in the common area for ages talking about the local pizzas we would order the second we got home. The day I made it back to Indianapolis from Chicago, I bought all my local favorites, as promised: Hot Box Pizza, Insomnia Cookies, all the things I couldn’t get a hold of in Ireland. Some of my friends from IES Abroad Dublin and I have a groupchat, and for the first week, we all just sent in pictures of the food we were eating.

Some things settling in are just strange. I went to a grocery store my second day back, stood in the aisle and stared. Trying to go back to Kroger was overwhelming after shopping in a cramped Tesco Express for months. The aisles in grocery stores in America are enormous, and you only need to go to one store to find everything, from batteries to milk to an entire row just for all the different types of cereal. It took me an hour for a basic grocery run because I kept staring at everything. I could no longer imagine a need for this many different types of cereal, for so much milk stacked in the refrigerated section. The grocery store nearest my living space in Dublin was a little smaller than my house back home, and the “small” grocery store I went to at home was four or five times larger.

Other aspects of returning to the United States after four months in Ireland are just hard. For as much as I miss the lush, dark green hills, the crowded sidewalks, and the array of accents, what I miss most of all are the friends I made there. The abroad semester is just that. It is only one semester. But in the past semester of classes and living together, many of us became close. There was a certain type of intimacy in such a small group of students all attending the same small group of classes. I walked to class with the people I lived with, went to class and on trips across Europe with the same people, and after four months of making up our entire social circle, there’s no promise that we will ever see one another again.

I guess that my takeaway is that when we were all in Dublin, it felt like a whole other world, and a complete world at that. My world was surrounded by an entirely different setting, different population, and a different day-to-day life. Some of it can be brought back. I’ve discovered new recipes and cooking skills, my sense of style has changed, and I have a new degree of confidence when I talk to strangers. Some of it, like the professor who made us tea every class, will never come up again. But when you get to start over in a whole new place with all new people, subjecting yourself to an entire, unfamiliar world, you cannot help but learn who you are outside of your circumstances. Even though, settling back in, I feel very far from Indianapolis still, I feel like a more concentrated version of myself.

For now, I have to bid Dublin goodbye, with only the promise to myself that I will be back there one day.

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Elizabeth Coffman-Mackey

<p>I am a fourth year college student living with my wife and our cat. I spend most of my free time writing stories or attempting to "vegetarianize" meat dishes. I love all kinds of fantasy, but especially the likes of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and I hope to learn enough about English in college that I can spend the rest of my life getting paid to do the writing I will be doing anyway.</p>

2019 Spring
Home University:
Indiana University
Urbana, IL
Creative Writing
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