How are we connecting to our home countries without being there?

December 11, 2020

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For more than eight months, life has been different to what we could ever have imagined. Most of us have been unable to travel during these times and haven’t visited our home countries, where many of us have family, for months, if not years. As an international school, especially a boarding school, many students have multiple homes, and we have had to stay away from one of them for a longer period than we are accustomed to. As a result, we have been forced to find creative ways to connect to our home countries that we haven’t had to use before.

Going ‘back home’ is often a sensory experience – smells, sights, tastes, sounds, feelings. All of these sensations combine to create a unique memory of a place, and if you experience any of them in isolation, it brings intense memories of the others. I most often visit Buenos Aires during Christmas time, where it smells like grass and smoke, tastes like homemade empanadas and mate, looks like my grandparents’ kitchen, and sounds like cicadas and conversation. It feels like aching feet after five hours of dancing under stars on New Year’s, and waking up at noon and going to bed at one in the morning. I haven’t gone home for almost two years, and I miss this experience. One of the ways that I have been connecting with Argentina while not being there is drinking mate, a very bitter tea from the River Plate region that I’ve grown to love. Preparing and drinking it is a whole ritual, and grounds me in the memories of sitting around a table in the thirty degree heat with medialunas and talking with my family.

This experience of finding ways to connect with my culture and country made me wonder if other students are doing the same, as I’m sure for many, it has been difficult staying away for so long. Such a multifaceted experience as visiting home is difficult to recreate in a totally different country, but we can find solace in small things such as a national dish or phone calls with family. As part of my research for this article, I sent a survey out to the students of the school, asking for ways that they have been doing this. Here are some of my results…

Music and movies

One way that I have been connecting to Argentina – and learning more about my country’s cultural history – is by listening to “rock nacional” (national rock), a movement of rock music that served as a form of resistance against the military dictatorship in the 70’s through to the 90’s. I was glad to hear that other students are using music in a similar way. Meghna Mishra, Grade 11 student from India, had this to say:

“I’ve been listening to a lot more Bollywood songs from some of my favorite movies, and then I also started investigating Indian Classical Music for a music project. I also performed a Hindi song just so that I could feel more connected with India. Performing helped me to feel connected because I was able to connect more with my first language, since I don’t normally sing in Hindi, and the song I performed was also one that I’ve always wanted to sing. In a way, I was connecting with my memories of it, since I’d initially watched the movie when I was younger, in India.”

Many other students mentioned watching movies from their home countries as well – a Swiss student in Grade 8 said that she “watched Swiss movies, and then it felt like I was sat in Switzerland watching TV”. Music and movie culture tends to be quite specific to different places, so watching these movies or listening to our favourite childhood tunes can make us feel like we are back there, like the first time we ever heard them.

 

 

Calling home

One of the most common responses to the question of “how do you combat homesickness?” that I received was to FaceTime our family and friends back home. Many students said that this helped them feel more connected, particularly for 7-day boarders who don’t see their family regularly anyway, and being far apart during a pandemic has surely been even more difficult. Céline de Noailles, Grade 9, said: “I call my friends and family in Paris every day”, saying that this, along with listening to French music and her mother delivering French food helped her to overcome her homesickness. Zara in Grade 12 said that she was “constantly calling [her] family”, a sentiment that was echoed by many students, such as an Australian student who said she kept in touch “almost everyday”. Often, we associate home with a certain place, but also with the people that come along with it. It should not be a surprise, then, that calling home – seeing faces and hearing voices – is a way that most students have been staying in contact with their home countries.

Food

There are very few things that can remind us so intensely of a place than food, which is so much more than something to fill you up – it’s the smells, the experience of making it with your family, and the spices that remind you of home. An Irish Grade 11 student mentioned cooking traditional Irish stew at home; a Grade 10 student from Iraqi Kurdistan says that her family used the quarantine period earlier on in the year to attempt making traditional foods from their home country. Many people said they were buying foods imported from their home country as well as cooking those traditional recipes themselves. Sometimes, cooking and eating something familiar is the best way to feel comfortable and know that we don’t always have to be at home to feel like we are there.

Being unable to see our home turf has been difficult for many. However, with a mass vaccination programme beginning in the UK, the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to get clearer. Hopefully, we will all be off home soon, to eat, listen to music, dance, laugh and chat with our families. It is difficult being away for so long, but imagine the number of stories you’ll have to tell them when you see them again!

Remember to be responsible over the holidays – the more careful we all are, even with the relaxed regulations for Christmas, the sooner we will all be together again. Happy holidays!

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