Whenever I get homesick, it does not manifest as moping around, constantly calling people back home or missing my family (sorry Dad). Instead, I get emotional about my love for my hometown. Freshman year, my roommate had to agree to hanging a six-foot-long Chicago flag in our room. New Yorkers had to hear my unsolicited fighting words, “Chicago is without question the greatest city on earth.” And I requested deep dish pizza and Italian beef to be freezer packed and shipped to me for my birthday.
This fierce, localized patriotism bubbled up in me again in Prague as it did that freshman year in Miami. You might think that this defensiveness of Chicago would have cooled as Miami became a place I learned to love. Perhaps I could now see that every city has its merits and shortcomings. Instead, I have the same cultish protectiveness of Miami that I used to feel only for Chicago.
There are 20 University of Miami students in our program, but also many others who we live and have classes with from other American universities. My homesick tendency flared up when one of those other students asked me and a couple of UM kids how we feel about going to school in Miami.
It was an innocent question, but one of the other UM students claimed mixed feelings and had a laundry list of complaints. Trying not to create conflict with the few people who I get to spend time with in a foreign country, I held back from screaming about the glories of my beloved alma mater. My body squirmed like a cartoon character, with visible steam pouring out my ears and my face the ruddy color of the Red Ilana banana (a delicious tropical fruit variety that can’t grow in many places outside Miami – bet she didn’t know about that, huh).
My diplomatic response, “I think you just have to find your niche,” was met with doubling down on this dislike for “Miami people.” Here, it got personal. So many people who I cherish, who inspire me, who I respect, who built me into who I am live in or come from Miami. Some of the loveliest people in my life appear on the surface to be stereotypical “Miami people,” having gotten plastic surgery, going clubbing multiple times per week and caring much more than I do about fitness. This, coming from basically a grandma whose hobbies consist of baking, gardening and going to a cappella concerts. It is a choice to judge people, or to recognize that we have no idea what their life is like and are extrapolating this negative persona based on surface level characteristics.
I just kept my mouth shut and left the room. A lot of this comes from my defensive homesickness, but it also is about something more fundamental. I talked in a previous blog post about my annoyance at people who resent where they come from, trying to “escape” the external instead of looking inward for gratitude and positivity. UM’s own April Dobbins spoke about this in her talk at TedxUMiami, recalling her grandmother’s words: “If you’re denying where you come from, you’re denying all the people who came before you. You’re denying everything that made you what you are. I have no respect for people who do that.”
Freshman year, I saw my home in Chicago as somehow fundamentally better than Miami. I know what it feels like to have disdain for the place and compare it to somewhere else. But I grew up. I learned the nuances and culture, and I recognized the stereotypes for what they were. I know these cities have flaws, but they build us and we need to have respect for that. After all, this is why we study abroad. There is value in every place, and traveling reveals the values that will shape who we become.