The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow Sadie Allen. Sadie is spending the first part of her gap year in China.
Halyomorpha Halys. The Black Marmorated Stink Bug. The Devil Returned to Earth. Call it what you want, the invasive stink bug population that plagues my town makes life, well, smelly. Originally from China, this creature has found a second home hiding in North Carolina. You can find them tucked away in cabinets, speckled on the wall, and even hiding in pant legs. My mother and I are fervent enemies of the creatures, killing them at any chance we get. Despite our efforts, though, these bugs are akin to the Hydra of Greek mythology— if you get rid of one, two more will take its place.
Leading up to my departure, our pungent problem persisted. It seemed as if every stink bug in Western North Carolina had flocked to my humble abode to wish me a wretched goodbye. Amongst my packing and preparing, these creatures made leaving home seem a bit easier. At least I won’t have to deal with these suckers in China, I thought. In contrast to my tearful goodbyes to my friends and family, I grinned with joy as I said “sayonara” to those stink bugs. Upon my arrival in China, I was overwhelmed by all that surrounded me. The blaring city lights, the unfamiliar dishes, and even the cold weather shocked me. I was no longer hidden in my Appalachian haven, surrounded by all that I know and love. There were no smelly bugs for me to obsess over, no cats for me to harass, no parents to comfort me. My heart ached for these once-daily provisions that I had taken for granted before I left.
As I began to unpack, this sadness persisted. Tears wet my face while I sorted through my belongings, my little reminders of the home I left behind. Holding up my favorite t-shirt, I heard a quiet click on the floor. Something had slipped out of my top and fallen to my feet. Low and behold, I had found a little friend— a world traveler, just like me. A Black Marmorated Stink Bug. Upon my discovery, I couldn’t help but laugh. The stink bug got home. The creature had survived the long journey across the world, just as I had.
My discovery reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend before my departure. Everyone, she told me, has a home. To someone, my scary, new abode is a sacred place, a place of safety and of love. To someone, even to the stink bug, China is home. I am comforted by the notion that every place, even the ones that are so new to me, have memories and feelings attached. They have histories and they have stories. It is possible that someone, a stranger, is in love with where I am now, even though it terrifies me.
As I stared at the bug at my feet, I wondered if the creature found any comfort upon returning home. I grinned at my personification of my enemy-turned-friend as I placed him outside on my windowsill. I would let this one live. I watched him fly off into the fog while I quietly said my goodbyes. While continuing to sift through my suitcase, I decided that I would keep this lesson in mind throughout my gap year— to treat every place as it is someone’s home, and to appreciate it as such. I think I will be all the better for it.