Being my first year traveling outside of North America, I found it vital to visit my family while living in Europe. I have family living all over the world-- in Germany, Sweden, Australia, Syria, Canada, Lebanon, etc. Since Germany and Sweden were closer in proximity, I decided to visit my cousins, aunts, and uncles, and make the most of this opportunity.
It's a bit evident that this holiday season was like no other. I got to reconnect with my roots, speak my first language, and eat my native foods.
In all honesty, traveling can be overwhelming and tiresome. After traveling around Spain and visiting Portugal, Morocco and Ireland, I was exhausted. But it was rewarding to travel to Germany. I did get to travel around Amberg and get a taste of the culture (literally, too), yet the most important thing for me was seeing my family for the first time. I felt secure with them and I trusted them. I was finally not in a hostel or hotel, but with my actual family who cooked for me traditional Assyrian food and spoke to me in one of my native languages.
When I arrived in Amberg on Thanksgiving day, one of the first things we did was talk with my parents and siblings via Skype. It reached a point where we all started to cry because of how happy we were and also how sad we were to be so far apart from each other. My mother has five brothers and four sisters and each of them lives in a country outside of the United States. It was eye-opening to finally see my family, yet unfortunate that I was only there for a weekend. But visiting them has changed both me and my family. I am certain that I will visit them again, and they are wanting to make more efforts to visit us in the United States as well.
Here are a few photos of my Thanksgiving dinner at a Lebanese restaurant. During the dinner, my uncle told stories of my mom (his sister) when they were both children and living in Syria. There were also many German people who talked to us here and there, and I finally didn't feel like a tourist anymore.
Traveling to visit family is awarding in the sense that you can relax and get to know the heart of where you're visiting. Your family members become your mediator when you want to understand a culture, and that's very fortunate; not many people have that advantage.
Sweden was such a wonderful experience. The city of Stockholm was one of the prettiest, clearest cities I have ever seen. My cousin, who could not stop hugging me, took me on the best tour of the city. We did things on our own pace and got to experience the city like a local.
My other cousins took me to the outdoor zoo and museum, Skansen. We got to see typical Swedish animals like wolverines, foxes, reindeer, buffalo, seals, etc. We also explored inside the old Swedish homes and got to learn about the early lifestyle.
And to top it all off, we ended the weekend with a large family dinner. I got to practice my Arabic that I am actually learning in Granada. Going to Sweden was such a mix of great things. This Thanksgiving and holiday season are ones I'll never forget, especially because I return back home this Christmas. Seeing my family back home in Chicago will be the best way to end this holiday season.
Stephanie Khio is the Fall 2013 CEA MOJO in Granada, Spain. She is currently a senior at Roosevelt University in Chicago.