I recently went home for a week. It was the middle of October, with two months left of my year in Germany. My expat contract included one home trip. I saved it to as close to the end of the year as possible, so I would have it in case an emergency came up. As I approached September and I had been emergency-free, I decided to go ahead and take the trip, picking the most important of holidays: Red Hill Weekend (more on this later).
Even before I left Germany, this trip provided a taste of home. I flew United instead of Lufthansa and an American airline meant an American crew, everything in English first. They even had Friends on the plane! I flew from Frankfurt to Chicago, landing in the Windy City a little before noon. Upon arrival, I felt relief, letting out a breath I didn't know I was holding in. English! Giordano's Pizza! Waiting for my second flight, I spent a few hours in the business lounge. I chatted with both the bartender and a fellow traveler and in both cases we were able to avoid that awkward pause of 'what language do you speak,' delving into English immediately. I picked up The New York Times, the non-international version. It was such a relief.
In addition to being a native speaker, there was also the phone. On my second day in the States, I got a new phone, upgrading from Samsung Galaxy 5 to Samsung Galaxy 7 (Not a Note, so it won't blow up. In general, I'm enjoying the phone, especially the additional storage, but it was a worse experience going from the 5 to the 7 than the 3 to the 5 a few years ago; get it together, Samsung). I had grown accustomed to relying upon WiFi and having a phone with data was a revelation. I could text instead of relying on gchat! I could access Twitter and Google without finding WiFi! No more lists of things to look up later or making a mental note to send off an email the next time I had the chance. Just pure 4G access. In some ways, limiting my phone usage to just WiFi the past year has probably been for the best. Who needs Twitter or FB access when you're in Paris or London? Who needs constant email updates when you're on a cruise on the Rhine? Turns out, me.
In addition to the States stuff (phones, English, all the Mexican food I can eat in a short time) there was also the home home stuff. Seeing my friends, meeting one of their kids for the first time. Also a few days at home. I had an abundance of family time, from taking the cat to the vet to camping with family to games by the fire. Yes, I took an international flight mostly for camping and games. And it was worth it! Seeing everyone in the flesh, watching my goddaughter's third Halloween, just the casual family and friend time that you don't get when you're meeting in Ireland for vacation. It was also a great break from work and news. After drama at work and following this stressful election way too closely, it was nice to escape for a few days.
The best part of my trip home was also the worst. I was to fly back to Germany on Monday; Sunday afternoon before my flight, my grandma had a stroke. The doctors at the local hospital determined it was a stroke around 11:30 and by 12:30 she was on a helicopter to a better-equipped hospital 2 hours away. And the family immobilized just as quickly - by the time she was in the helicopter, all six cousins had convened at the hospital, spending some time with her before her dramatic flight. Arrangements were quickly made to make the trip to the hospital. Overnight bags packed, caravans arranged. Children dropped off with friends of the family, offering their well wishes and prayers before taking up the kiddos. I made the drive to the hospital in a packed van - two cousins, one cousin's wife, my mom and I, our grandpa, my cousin driving. The drive was scary - we received two phone calls from the doctor after grandma had arrived, neither promising. At the hospital it wasn't much better, as her condition deteriorated. But we were all there, for her, for grandpa, for each other. A village, fifteen in total - cousins and aunts and uncles and siblings. Around 10:30 PM the doctor came back, telling us she was to have a procedure that might kill her but that skipping the procedure would definitely kill her.
You need family for a prognosis like that. She made it through the procedure as good as could be expected. Without knowing what else to do, I said goodbye to everyone, flying out the next day. In the business lounge in Chicago, where I hung out for a few hours that Monday, I kept getting updates from my mom, knowing that if I needed to, I could rent a car and be back with my family in just a few hours. By the time I boarded my international flight, Grandma had done a 180, talking and getting some of her memory back. Over a week later, we still don't know what the long term effects will be, but she's doing so much better and improving every day.
But I'm glad that I was there, for my family, for my grandparents, for myself. But I'm also glad I got those experiences with my family. The fun of the games and campfire but also for the quick response and support shown in times of need. So sure, it was nice to be in the States for the language and the phone and the Mexican, but even more so for the people and the moments we needed each other.