I Am In a Foreign Country

March 11, 2008
By Kristen Soforic, Mt. Pleasant, PA

I am in a foreign country. I know nobody. I have zero goals. And I am at peace.

I do mean “at peace.” Not content, not lazy, not happy—at peace. It’s totally dark, and I’m standing on the balcony of a room eight stories up a ten story building looking out over a maze of pools and palm trees, and past that to an almost indiscernible ocean. There are about three or four buildings that enclose this pocket of land and make up the resort where my family and I are staying. The pools are lighted from within and they snake, in various, shifting shades of blue, through the two acres of land. I can hear the palm trees rustling in the breeze. The ocean rocks quietly, but the depth of the sound betrays its immensity. For me, there was always something comforting about the sound of the ocean at night: I feel protected, held. Tonight there was a sky full of stars, and it, along with the ocean, the warm night air, and the gently rustling palm fronds had me feeling like the most beloved, peaceful person on earth.

But, then again, Mexico has a special effect on me. There’s something about the feel in the warm night air, the high black sky, the lights of cities off in the distance, and the mountains surrounding everything that make my senses go wild. Everything is slightly beat up, from the buses to the clothes to the buildings, but instead of repelling me these stir in me an insatiable curiosity for this country and its people, so unlike me and my country. I’m so ridiculously happy on a Mexican bus, which rattles down the pothole-filled roads and never completely comes to a stop, that I have to make an effort not to laugh too much. I get a high walking through a city at night, chatting with strangers, getting totally lost. But more than anything I love the easy smiles of the people, their uninhibited warmth. I love how they devote themselves to family and friends instead of money or accomplishments. I love their hospitality. I love who I become around them.

Wonderful as all this is, however, it also creates some tension upon my return home. Bright, sunny, oh so alive Mexico, to cold, dreary, dead Pennsylvania. Or is it bright, sunny, oh so alive Kristen, to cold, dreary, dead Kristen? Is the change within me or without? Or is it a mixture of both? Either way, the week in Mexico is the highlight of my year, and the week after is probably the most emotional time of my year as I ponder the ultimate, maddening mystery known as the purpose of life. Accomplishments or family and friends? Grades and work or living simply and enjoying life? And why does it have to be either-or? Back and forth, back and forth, never an answer, never an easy black-and-white solution. A couple weeks after returning from Mexico I can glimpse why I love Pennsylvania: the rolling hills, the mist at dawn, the air when it’s snowing or after a rain shower or early in the morning. It begins to feel comfortable and familiar again. I can be happy here, I know. But then I think of the mountains, the sky, and the feel in the air at nighttime…oh, that feel in the air!

Why am I here, why must I stay here in dreary Pennsylvania? Why can’t I be in Mexico? I sound like a petulant child, and I hear myself arguing with God that it’s actually a downgrade, if you think about it—going from the richest country in the richest time of history to Mexico, a third-world country, where so many people are leaving to come to the US…but where I feel truly alive, every fiber alert and vibrating. Where I feel fulfilled in ways I’ve never been fulfilled here. I’ve lived in my mind most of my life, in the world of ideas and language and academics. In Mexico I exercise my body and my heart.

And I repeat, oh God, why do I have to choose between the two?

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