Family has always been important to me. From an early age, I learned to appreciate the love and support that a family can offer, and most of my childhood is filled with idyllic memories.
Now the connection I have with my family is by no means unique. My childhood friends share similar bonds with their own families. Their mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters are just as central to their lives as mine are to my own. Indeed the importance of family is central to all societies. However, the role family plays in an individual’s decisions varies.
The first major decision young Americans have to make comes near the end of high school. As we prepare to graduate high school, we are usually given two choices: go to college or get a job.
Although some of my friends responded differently, most of their answers had something in common– they wanted to stay close to family. So most of them decided between local options, applying to in-state colleges or jobs in the city.
However, my choice would set me apart.
Away At College
I decided to attend a university neither in my hometown of Kansas City, nor even in the state. Instead, I opted to leave the Midwest entirely. I found a university in Washington, D.C. and moved all the way to the East Coast. This meant that my new home would be a full one thousand miles away from my old one. If I wanted to see my family, I would have to catch a flight or make the seventeen-hour drive back to Kansas City. Neither of these options were feasible.
Still, my freshman year came and went. It was an exciting time in my life, full of new experiences. It was the first time I had lived in a big city, and also the first time since elementary school that I had to make all new friends.
It was also the first time I had been away from my family. This was not altogether a negative experience. The unprecedented sense of freedom was invigorating, and the opportunity for growth seemed boundless. However, it also came with hardships.
The most trying experience I had came during the holidays.
My university provided students a four-day break from classes in November so students could celebrate Thanksgiving. Afterwards, classes resumed for about two more weeks and then we were given a full month for Christmas break. Many students who lived in cities close to D.C. took advantage of the shorter break to see their families.
It was simply too expensive for me to make the trip home for Thanksgiving if it meant I would have to fly back in a matter of days and then repeat the process in a few weeks’ time. I would have to stay on the East Coast and wait it out.
I had made friends who offered to let me stay with them for the holiday, so fortunately, I would not have to spend Thanksgiving alone, but this also proved to be a double-edged sword.
Spending Thanksgiving with my friends and their families helped alleviate some of my own loneliness. I could spend the holiday with other people, and the food they prepared was far better than anything I could have hoped to cook. Yet, seeing my friends with their families made me long for my own.
I remember feeling an acute pang of sadness that I could not split the Turkey bone with my brother as I had grown accustomed to doing years before. Fortunately, loved ones are only a few clicks and a good wifi connection away. I eventually got over the rut by spending copious amounts of time on Facetime and filling myself with pumpkin pie.
I would end up spending Thanksgiving with different friends almost every year. It gave me the chance to cement friendships and travel to new cities. Some years were more difficult than others. I missed big family gatherings and important moments, but I also learned more about myself and grew more independent. This growth would soon help me.
Away in Europe
After graduating from university, I took a job as an English teacher in France, where I currently work. It’s a short term contract which only lasts for about 7 months. In many ways, my move to France mirrors the earlier move to Washington, D.C. I am presented with many of the same challenges. However, this time they’re more exaggerated.
The distance is greater, and the unfamiliarity is more poignant. Now the challenge is not only making new friends but also familiarizing myself with the culture. Furthermore, my family is even less accessible. Aside from the obvious increase in distance, communication has become more difficult thanks to the seven-hour time difference.
That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed my experience. To the contrary; it has been amazing. I have managed to make friends and learn more about new cultures. For the most part, I was able to adapt to the new environment, and I’ve become more confident in myself.
Still, while the joys have been pronounced, so have the challenges.
Although the work is still ongoing, I believe that I have already faced the most difficult obstacle this experience will present. Similar to my time in college, it concerned the holiday season. However, I had been dreading this since I boarded my plane to France.
At the time, my mom and younger brother took me to the airport to say their goodbyes. My brother had gotten bored with the ordeal since he had grown used to these airport farewells while I was in college. My mom, on the other hand, knew this would be different. I had suggested to her that I likely would not be able to come home until the contract was over due to the expensiveness of international travel.
When it was time to board the plane my mom began to cry. My brother, somewhat annoyed, quipped, “Why are you crying? He always leaves.” My mother responded, “This time he’s acting like he doesn’t want to come home.”
In that moment, I realized what toll my absence has had not only on me but also on my family. I gave my mom a hug, trying to hide my own tears and shuffled on the plane knowing that this time I would not be back by Christmas.
To make matters worse, my birthday happens to be the day right after Christmas. So this would be the first time I’d spend both days without family.
I was fortunate, however, to have made a friend in Hungary years before during a trip there. She and her family hosted me with open arms and showed me as much love, almost as if I were one of their own children.
Of all the missed holidays and family gatherings, this one had the potential to be the most gut-wrenching. The nature of Christmas is one where people are expected to be with their loved ones. Its stature as a family holiday seems to shine above all others. That, and the fact that my birthday followed directly afterwards, made me think December would be a hard month for me.
Yet my friend took it upon herself to see that I was as happy as possible. I learned that friends can truly feel like family sometimes, and I can always have bits of this “family” no matter where I am. I also made sure to introduce my mom to every member of my adopted Hungarian family via Skype before the night ended.
I suppose both she and I realized that our family had grown a little bigger that night.
Until Next Time,
About The Author…
Erick Boone is a native of Kansas City, Missouri and a recent graduate of Howard University. He currently lives in France where he works as an English teacher. He loves all things language. Erick also has a penchant for travelling, having visited 15 different countries. He spends his free time learning about history and culture via YouTube and literature… but mostly YouTube. His goal is to become an American diplomat.