Most Americans visit Europe as tourists. When they go, they go to see different cultures and new places; historical monuments and museums; old architecture and natural wonders.
This is all well and good. I also enjoy being a tourist and wish I had more opportunities to explore new cities and cultures. But as I reflected on my family’s most recent trip to Slovenia, I couldn’t help but think how cool it is that when I do get to visit Europe, I not only see new places and faces but familiar ones as well.
Europe, at least Slovenia and parts of Croatia, are not places I simply visit as a tourist. They are like a second home. They are places I’ve known all my life and have gotten to come back to over the years. I actually know people who live and grew up in these countries. More than knowing them, I’m related to them.
All of my mother’s family lives in Slovenia and Croatia. I have family there, blood relations. This means my visits to Europe are not shallow or surface-level (not to say tourist visits are by any means). They are rich with an ever-growing knowledge of my family heritage and the histories of Slovenia and Croatia. My visits are enriched with stories from my mom’s childhood and hugs from extended family members both young and old.
Many people visit Europe. Many Americans romanticize and idealize it. But few know it. Few get to say they have family members who reside there. Few are well-acquainted with seemingly random shopping malls, ice cream stands, and semi-suburban neighborhood streets.
Few people stay in their grandparents’ old apartment each time they visit—and few are familiar with the nagging and unfathomable emotions that take hold each time they step inside.
Few travelers spend several days in a row doing the exact same thing as the day before. Few get to eat the same rich, delicious, and region-specific food for each meal.
Few have sat through church services they didn’t understand. Few have joyously sang songs of worship and praise in a foreign tongue.
Few have had the opportunity to sing in church with their mother, aunt, and uncle with a cousin on piano, another on drums, and an uncle on bass.
Few have truly understood the power of music to connect people who don’t understand one another.
Few have felt the joy and excitement of reuniting with both friends and family who live across the Atlantic.
Few have cried over their lack of knowledge of a mother’s mother tongue. Few have cried at the prospect of leaving to go back home again.
Few have felt as strongly about a place as I do about Slovenia.
I guess all that is simply a long way of saying that my connection with Europe—specifically Slovenia—is deeper than most Americans and that my visits are often more mundane and familiar than that of an average American.
As I’ve grown older, however, I’ve come to realize that the mundane and the familiar are not bad things. In many cases, the mundane and familiar signify home and family—two crucial aspects of any person’s life.
Take the example of my experience growing up in Coppell, Texas: I believed it was about as lame of an upbringing as anyone could wish for. What was special about Texas? Coppell, in my 15-year-old opinion, had no culture, nothing to do, and was just plain ugly. In other words, I looked down on the place of my upbringing because it was familiar and thus mundane.
Looking back, I understand that much of my discontentment with Coppell was because it was nothing new — the “same old, same old.” I often became desensitized to all the wonderful aspects of growing up in Coppell because I became so used to the surroundings and culture. In reality, Coppell had much to offer: I got to attend great schools (shoutout to Coppell Middle School East and Laura Springer), I had a strong Christian community, I was safe, I made lifelong friendships, I lived close to a big city, and I had stability.
Although I held Coppell in contempt throughout my teenage years, I romanticized Slovenia. It wasn’t until this recent trip that I realized life there, for my family and the rest of Slovenia’s citizens, is likely just as mundane as mine.
This is because the places we live—our homes, our city or town, and the people we dwell with—are familiar. We grow so used to living in the places we do that they lose their luster.
As much as I value traveling, stepping outside of our comfort zones, and new experiences, there is also something good to be said about the familiarity of home.
In many ways, and for many people, home is about familiarity more than beauty. While many desire a beautiful place to live (myself included), the aesthetics of one’s home or hometown matter much less than the people one dwells with and the feelings that greet them each time they step foot in their doorway, pass that same old shop, or walk down their favorite street.
While I often experience a sigh of familiarity when I reach my home in Coppell (especially when coming home from California), this sigh of familiarity also greets me each time I go back to Slovenia.
For me, Slovenia is more than a country with old buildings, quaint villages, and postcard-worthy scenery; it’s the place where half of my extended family lives their familiar, ordinary, everyday lives; it’s a second; and in many ways, it’s a part of me.
As always, thank you for reading.
Below are some pictures from my trip. Take a look if you wish!