My index fingers tap on the seat rests next me in the small airplane as I wait for the flight to take off. A father and son sit next to me, or at least I think they’re father and son. I can’t really tell since they speak Maltese rather than English. I’ve just spent four months in Malta but I still haven’t learned a lick of their language. Sitting here listening to Maltese for maybe the last time starts to bring tears to my eyes. I don’t want to cry sitting next to two men I don’t know. Meanwhile, the screens that drop down every few rows start playing the safety video of the cartoon king learning how to put his seat belt on.
Soon, the plane starts to take off, taking me away from the home I built. I’m straight up bawling at this point. The guys sitting next to me keep talking like I’m not an insane person crying next to them. I can see all of Malta now. The small island looks so different from when I flew in, familiar and wonderful rather than scary and foreign. It’s insane how much your perception of a place can change in such a short amount of time.
When I landed in Malta four months ago, all I could only see the negatives of this beautiful country: too much construction, crazy drivers and a million people I didn’t know. As much as I wanted to be there, it scared the shit out of me at the same time. I felt super homesick and looked for any reason to go home.
Now, I dream of these beaches and the friendly but strong-minded citizens of this overly colonized island. I wish I could sip margaritas on the beach or have a weird conversation with the rude guy from small market next door. I wish so badly that I could travel back to my second home where I felt relaxed and accepted. For the first time since starting college, I’d felt like a part of the Luther’s community because I’d brought that community with me in the form of 11 other students.
A week later, I started a new job as a gardener and intern at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Normalcy has set in. I’m back as a regular 20-year-old college student working a summer job. It feels like Malta never happened. My old friends stayed where I left them, at Luther. In my hometown, nothing has changed except for me. It feels odd to be home, almost like I never left, but I have four months of memories to remind me of my trip.
I know it’s rude to think that people weren’t living their own lives while I was away, but everything feels the same. But as for me, I feel so different than what I was four months ago. After going back to school in the fall this feeling has grown deeper. I feel like either this college has grown past me or I have grown past it. It took me a while to settle back into a routine that doesn’t involve weekend trips through Europe and only going to class two days a week.
My friends made new friends and so did I. I have memories that only make sense to a few people in my life. There are so many things I cannot put into words, like our favorite restaurant just down the street in Malta or the feeling of riding a camel at midnight in the Sahara desert. Not being able to communicate that longing for a place so far away makes it that much harder to explain why I seem so different. In some ways I feel happier, in other ways older, more mature, with a few laugh lines and a gray hair or two. Maybe I’m just stuck in the past and in a place I can’t go back to yet.
It still feels weird being back. The places I spent everyday in seem like only a few miles away instead of across the ocean. The sea air lingers in my nose and the cold breeze rushes over my face when I wake up. I can taste the mojito made by my favorite restaurant and hear the laugh of the friends I left behind. I love being home but I will always love Malta and I hope to go back as soon as I can.