The concept of "home" is strange and fluid. More than anything, I think it is a feeling rather than a physical location. Some find home in multiple places, others in just one. Some find home in a person. I haven't experienced that sort of "home" yet, perhaps I might never find it. Perhaps I will someday. I do, however, have more than one home, with each one harboring a different set of feelings and memories.
I am sure that it is no surprise to anyone that I am in Chile yet again. I was more surprised than anyone else, really. My previous times in Chile had been so short, and I felt like I had never really been there long enough to gain the growth and experience I longed for. My plan had always been to go straight to graduate school for my doctorate directly after graduating with my Bachelors. Taking a gap year to gain experience wasn't really in my plans and seemed like such a foreign idea to me. However, sometimes something important grabs you by the arm and refuses to let you go, and you have to allow yourself to be willing to be led elsewhere.
After three years of contemplation, I applied to a very prestigious grant that would have allowed me to return to the marine station and finish my projects over a 9 month period. It would have paid for everything I needed and I would have the distinction of having won that grant for the rest of my life. I had wanted it for a long time, and now everything appeared to be falling into place. I put everything I had into that application. I worked on it for months, went through numerous drafts, asked others to review it for me and I reviewed it myself with a great deal of scrutiny. After several months it was finally ready for submission and I was incredibly proud of that application. My university had even told me it was the best science proposal they had ever seen, and they were very sure that I would receive the grant.
Several months down the line, I learned that I had been selected as a semi-finalist. I cried in my car after receiving the email. Everything I had worked so hard towards was finally coming to fruition, and I was so honored to have made it that far. About two months later, however, a different email came in my inbox. The email stated that I had not won the grant in any capacity, and I hadn't even made alternate status. I was devastated. In the dark with just my desk lamp on, I sat in my chair and breathed very quietly to myself in an almost trance-like state. In all of my undergraduate career, I had wanted nothing more than this grant, and I was so close to achieving it only to lose it at the end. I felt like I had let myself and so many people down. In the midst of that heartache, however, there was a very quiet inner peace. Although I was tremendously disappointed, that news didn't break me. Just two years earlier, it would have. That was a significant amount of growth on my part. The next few weeks were hard, but I didn't drown. Reminders of my loss were everywhere, refusing to let me forget. All of the other alternates at my university received the grant, and while I was elated for them, it certainly stung. But, I refused to be defeated. I kept my head up and moved on. Eventually it stung less and less until eventually it didn't upset me so much. I grieved the loss of that opportunity and then I moved on. In those circumstances, you have to allow yourself to feel that pain, accept it, and then let those feelings pass on their own. Those wounds will heal over time.
Someone had thankfully given me some good advice that saved me. "Don't put all of your faith into that one grant." Taking his advice, I applied to literally every other grant I could. During perhaps the most difficult semester of my life, I applied to graduate school and grants for Chile while completing difficult courses and diving as frequently as possible to prepare for Chile. I was exhausted, but returning to my other home was so important to me and that kept me awake through the late nights where sleep was only a far away wish.
That work paid off. I won enough grants to help me return to Chile on my own, without that prestigious grant I so dearly desired. I didn't need them to make my way back home and finish my work, I did it on my own. That was a major encouragement.
In what feels like a very surreal turn of events, I have been here for a month. As the principle investigator of the lab put it, I "hit the ground running." I was tired but happy to be back doing what I loved. When you are so used to being in a place where no one shares your interests and you feel like you are on a completely different path, it is refreshing to be a part of an organization where everyone is interested in pursuing the same idea. Being surrounded by individuals who are as passionate about the ocean as I am is liberating. I had never experienced that before coming to ECIM, and it was a feeling I always yearned for afterwards. It was something I didn't know I needed until I found it that very first year that I arrived as a scared sophomore who had never traveled by herself before.
Amidst the happiness of finally making it back to the marine station, I noticed something was very different this year. The sea was virtually the same, little had changed with the station itself although some people (many of whom were dear to me) had left, and the work was relatively the same. I realized, however, that I had changed, and not for the better. My mood was different: I felt exhausted and apathetic. I was drained and felt my drive wavering. Sometimes you need something to take you by the shoulders and shake you up a little bit to make you re-evaluate some things. I realized that the past year had been incredibly difficult for me for multiple reasons, and I had to admit to myself that it had altered me in a negative way. I had backpedaled on some important growth and developed some bleak attitudes towards life. Sometimes life shapes and molds you in a way that is not conducive towards becoming a better, happier person, so it is your responsibility to yourself to buff out the rough edges and and reset the damaged places within yourself. I needed to rediscover some of that growth and happiness for myself and for no one else.
Over the years I have realized that the sense of "home" has nothing to do with my physical address. "Home" is where you feel comfortable and happy, somewhere you can grow as a person. ECIM is a home for me. I am surrounded by like-minded people who make me happy and help me grow into a better scientist and a better person. I have the sea at my disposal, and I am finally able to explore it through both snorkeling and SCUBA. I missed this place every single day while I was gone. The sea haunted me in my sleep and in my waking moments. That disconnect from the thing I loved the most was one of the hardest things I have ever experienced. Having more than one home can be difficult because you constantly feel torn between multiple places. But, if it hurts, it means something. I will be in this "home" until it is time for me to move on, and then I will find a new home with new experiences and people who will help me to grow into a better scientist and person. I will always miss this one, but a part of growth is knowing when it is time to leave. I'll be stronger for it. For now, though, I can be present. I can rediscover my happiness.