“My father says you remember the smell of your country no matter where you are but only recognize it when you’re far away,” Romanian author Aglaja Veteranyi said in her novel Why the Child is Cooking in the Polenta.
I not only remember but also long for my home.
I know homesickness all too well. About a year and a half ago, I left my home country of Peru to study in the United States.
After an eye-opening trip to Europe in high school, I decided I wanted to study abroad.
My first semester I felt fine with being in a different country. Of course, I thought a lot of things Americans did were weird. How could I not? The United States was a completely different world.
First semester was smooth sailing for the most part. But when spring semester rolled around, I developed a massive case of homesickness.
It is common to not feel the pang of homesickness your first semester because making new friends and exploring your new campus and city tend to occupy your thoughts.
Many people’s first semesters are so full of novelty and excitement that their homesickness is kept at bay.
But when the hoopla of events like welcome week and rush subsided, the reality of living more than 3,000 miles from my home, alone and away from family, friends and familiar places slapped me like a gust of icy wind.
I felt insecure and anxious when I thought about how far away from home I really was; my mind could not fully comprehend it.
I missed home although I honestly never thought I would ever miss Peru that much.
Throughout most of high school I had a negative attitude toward my country.
People criticized the corruption in the government, the lax attitude of law enforcement authorities toward criminals, the overall chaos of Lima traffic and the mediocrity of the state educational system.
I often joined the chorus of voices criticizing Peru. I thought Lima was chaotic and ugly.
I thought the desert surrounding it was too boring to be appreciated. I was tired of the ubiquitous dust and humidity of Lima.
But when my homesickness kicked in, I started missing many things, some of which I thought I would never miss.
I missed the sunsets in which the barren mountains around the city would flare up in orange and pinkish hues.
I missed the view of the sparkling Pacific Ocean on a breezy summer day.
I missed family dinners. I missed the sensation of humidity on my skin.
I even missed some of the smells I would find in Lima, like the smell of a dozen kinds of freshly baked bread in supermarkets, the smell of the molle trees in front of my house or the smell of a foggy winter morning in Lima.
In short, I missed the smell of Peru.
I find Veteranyi’s words to be completely true, and even thousands of miles away from home, I have learned to identify those aromas and sensations so familiar to me.
Now every time I bump into them I stop what I’m doing and treasure the moment.
I treasure my memories, and I treasure my home.
The transition from Peru to the United States has been a hard one.
I still have bouts of homesickness, but moments like the ones described by Veteranyi encourage me and give me hope that home is closer to me than I ever thought.
Home is in me, and it is not going to leave me easily.