The Ugly Side of Travel: Loneliness

I expected to be homesick, though only just a couple of times. It’s natural when you’re living abroad. But I was not expecting this crippling loneliness.

Before I came I was so excited for the experience to live on my own and experience a different education system. I was mainly focused on my career and advancing on the cello, so when I imagined the year to come I thought also about the kind of people I would meet, but to be honest it wasn’t one of my top priorities. When I first came to Spain six years ago, it wasn’t that way either, and I ended up meeting the most fantastic group of girls with whom I still keep in touch today. I thought that if I didn’t put too much emphasis on it again, it would happen naturally. The main difference though between then and now is that that was only for six weeks, and this was for 9 months. When you’re visiting a place, or taking a short trip, it’s completely different from living in a place. When you live in a place you begin to desire those established relationships.

I’ve had the great fortune to meet fabulous people whenever I’ve been abroad. And while I met some great people here this year, I have to come out and say that there isn’t anyone that I’ve truly, profoundly connected with, except for one person who returned home by the time we discovered the bond we shared.

And so the majority of my days are spent in solitude. It’s been that way since day one. I worked in a school where I had many breaks but had to stick around because it was in a different town. Those breaks were spent sitting in the back of the classroom, working yes, but keeping to myself. Speaking to teachers was rare as most of them couldn’t care less that I was there. My busy schedule in the beginning of the year kept me distracted enough, but as private classes dwindled, my free time grew, and my time alone grew. I go to concerts, but I go alone. I go to the theater, but I go alone. I sit in a cafe, but I sit there alone. I write and I play music (got myself back on the piano!), but I do it alone. I work, I write new curriculum, I attempt to insert life into my classroom, but I do it alone.

There’s so much I took for granted back in New York. Having those established friendships with people you know, people you connect to, family to support you, a constant and consistent cycle of people in your life that you enjoy spending time with…that’s so crucial. At the end of the day it’s not the buildings or the stores or the concerts that make a place…it’s the people. And without even one true friendship to sustain you, the loneliness, when it hits, hits hard.

Perhaps I haven’t made a great enough effort. I will admit to that. Perhaps this is also a result of the recent surge in my inability to accept people as they are and enjoy what they do have to offer. As I become more internal as a result of my loneliness, I become more anti-social and slightly much more judgmental.   According to Nichiren Buddhism, the environment is a reflection of yourself. Problem is, it f*ing sucks admitting to that, because it means you have to assume responsibility for whatever it is in your environment that you’re struggling with. But at the end of the day, it is your attitude that determines everything.

The majority of what I’ve learned this year has come at a high cost, emotionally and financially. The painful beauty of travel is that you learn A LOT in a short amount of time, but just as the amount that you learn is concentrated, the cost at which it comes is also concentrated.

So where do I go from here? Well, in a short three weeks I’ll be back in New York, and boy do I plan on immersing myself completely in the love of my friends and family, and sucking up as much of it as I can before I come back to Spain and do this all again. But this time, I’m going to do it right. Lesson learned, man. Lesson learned.

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