Thursday, January 19, 2012

Diary of an Expat: The Holidays Abroad

When I made the decision to live abroad, I knew that it would mean giving up some of the things I love. I also knew it would mean missing things that my friends and family got to experience together. But I'm not sure anything could have prepared me for my first Thanksgiving out of the US.

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. It is all the warmth of seeing family, a fantastic meal and a few days off from work without the added pressure of having to buy the perfect gift for every relative, friend and acquantaince while baking copious amounts of cookies and making sure your house looks perfect. Christmas dropped way down on my list of favorite holidays (to dead last) once my brother and sister left for college and there was no one to share the anticipation with. It's begun to climb back up, but really nothing will ever compare with Thanksgiving. Last year was my first Thanksgiving without any of my family around. I thought it would be hard, but I have a fantastic network of friends in New York who celebrated not only US Thanksgiving with me, but also Canadian Thanksgiving (who knew you can have the excuse to cook a turkey and GBC - green bean casserole, in case you didn't know - in October and November?!).

Canadian Thanksgiving Spread

Thanksgiving this year was possibly the worst holiday ever. I woke up in Prague, in a moderately sleazy hotel room on a business trip which had not afforded me much sleep over the past few days. I got on a plane to London and landed in the middle of the day, just in time to face the worst passport control line I've seen to date. It took what seemed like hours to get back to the office after a series of bad transportation decisions made by a colleague, and when I arrived to what should have been a relatively painless day, I'd had work dumped on me by a partner from another office who I've never met that needed to be done by the end of the day. I was still determined to have a proper Thanksgiving, even if I was by myself (oh, I didn't mention? Joe was in Tokyo.), so I eventually made it home and prepared myself this:

Thanksgiving for one (aka the most depressing thing ever)

It looks like a nice weeknight meal, but not the bountiful feast for which our country's founders were so thankful. I knew Thanksgiving was going to be hard, but I was really not prepared for how hard. A couple weeks later, Joe came home, and we got our apartment mostly settled, and carried on as though things were normal. I became determined to have a better Christmas, which Joe and I had decided to spend in Spain. It was a bit hard to get excited about Spain, but I didn't really know why. Maybe just the thought of family and friends getting together at home with Joe and I huddled together on our lonely continent was what was I was struggling with.

So, Christmas night we boarded our flight and were on our way to Spain. We saw amazing things in Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona, along with the small towns of Morella and Toledo. We were eating more than our fair share of jamon and queso and drinking all the Rioja we could find. We were lazy, and we laughed, and we were tourists, and we tried new things. And that's when I remembered that there was a reason that I left all of the people and the things that I love behind - to find some additional people and things to love. It didn't make me miss anyone or anything any less than I did before, but I remembered that there was a reason.

Casa Batllo - one of my favorite sites in Barcelona

Me on a stroll in Toledo, outside Madrid

We had so much fun at the beginning of our trip that by the end we would take turns not really feeling well, until the stomach flu caught up with me and I spent a full day in bed in our hotel in Barcelona. If you have ever been sick away from home, you know that it can be frustrating and uncomfortable to be away from the familiar things that make you feel better (e.g. ginger ale, chicken soup, saltine crackers, your mom). Luckily it only lasted a day, and the next day we were headed back to London.

As I got off the tube at Ladbroke Grove to head to my apartment, I felt something that I hadn't felt in a long time. I expected to feel the way I normally do when I return from vacation: sad that it is over and that I have to go back to work in a few days. But I felt light, and relaxed, and appreciative. I felt like I could finally settle back into being myself again. I felt something that I hadn't felt since I left New York - I felt home.

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