Category Archives: friends

Homesick? Battle It with These Tips

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Four years of life abroad are drawing to a close at this post’s writing. The weight is heady. These past nine months have been tougher than all the rest of the time in one particular way: the almost daily presence of homesickness. It had never affected me before. Not for a moment. It started two weeks after I arrived here in Piura, Peru.

 

You might remember the post I wrote for long-term travelers about salving the woes of their lot. The bandages mentioned there, though, can’t cure homesickness, which A ShelterOffshore calls “expat flu”. Homesickness, the post says, often leads to physical ailments, “a result of the body collapsing after the stresses, strains, excitements and highs of” moving abroad. Well, it literally did just so in June when a flu wracked my body for a month. A colleague, a five-month veteran of life abroad, now goes through the same thing.

To help others stave the depths to which my “flu” has plummeted my spirit, I have compiled some tips a little more holistic than bandages.

 

New friends helps curb the pain of homesickness

 

1) Establish a routine. It’s up to you to determine if this is an all-day thing, a once-daily practice, or even a weekly schedule of activities. The routine of having a long-term, stable, full-time job gave such happiness when I arrived here, since I’d craved that stability for years, helped to disguise my growing need for that same stability– in my own country. To combat that pain growing in my heart, I devised weekend plans. During good times they fly out the windows. During needy times, when the pain of homesickness brings me near to tears, they comfort.

 

2) Decorate your residence like home. For me that entails decorating with saris, art collected from my journeys, a wall calendar, a map of Mumbai, too many books to be sensible, and lamps and candles to create variable lighting schemes.

 

3) Get out. No, not in a horrifying Amityville way…With friends. Agreeing to attend a colleague’s birthday gathering a month after I arrived led to numerous more nights out, cherished memories, and friendships that saved me in times of non-homesickness related times. Read what Rachel Wilkerson suggests on her blog.

 

Walking beside strutting peacocks has been a high moment of my time in Piura

 

4) Get Away. My post on bandages on the trials of the long-term traveler suggests taking a day trip or more. That deserves reiteration. I look back and wish I’d done it in China. During my time in Piura I’ve taken a few trips. Next week brings the start of more, a trip to the beach resort town of Punta Sal, then a trip to visit friends and the arts scene of Lima. These approaching trips have caused me to forget about counting the number of days until my return to the US. Instead I linger in thoughts of seeing friends, hanging out in my favorite cafes, and showing my beached whale of a bikinied self on a beach that Hemingway once fished near.

 

5) Watch Some Home. Previously, my computer provided requisite visual entertainment via Netflix, downloaded movies, and DVDs. When I began watching local cable on the TV in my room, relaxation washed over me like a warm blanket.

 

Take a trip for a day or longer

6) Don’t Lose Site of the Present. What are you doing so far from home? Why did you leave? This isn’t a request to bash your country but an opportunity to look at the big picture. When able to quell my homesickness the littlest things fills me with delight. The way a restaurant’s sign reveals meaningful cultural iconography. The Christmas lights the flash and blink on windows throughout the neighborhood. The ability to speak the Spanish learned so many years ago in a hope to one day be able to do it abroad.

 

I wish you well with overcoming your homesickness. If you have tips that I haven’t included here, please let me know by replying to this post. Most of all I hope you do not let being homesick force you to abandon your dream of life abroad. Can you imagine how you’ll feel if you give in to it and leave before it’s your time?

Learning from NaNoWriMo + WNFIN 2012

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Tomorrow is the closing day of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and WNFIN (Write Nonfiction in November), the opening month of the 2012-2013 writers challenge season. I’m slogging through the final hours to complete my personal goal for the 30-day experiment. My goal was to complete the first section of my WIP (work in progress): my time in North China. No, I won’t meet my goal, but things never turn out the way you plan them, right.

It’s time for a look back at this month’s experience.

Challenges

Being without a fully functional computer for two weeks

This would terrify most people. Computers hinder though as much as they help. Writing long-hand and editing from print outs of work already written kept me going.

Growing groggy and needing a recharge

By the final week the writing wasn’t as smooth as it had been. I took a mental Ex-Lax and plowed through to complete a chapter that shows significant promise when edited in the future.

 

Benefits

I met a small handful of writers, added to the my WIP’s content (none of this limited 50,000 words for me, thank you), vanquished my fear of writing narrative, and learned to research whilst writing rather than beforehand. The narrative itself has included many lovely lessons:

  • filling in gaps creatively (not fictively) when information can’t be recalled.
  • writing around sections that simply won’t come
  • plodding through a section when it resists
  • using memories as part of the narrative rather than devising a half-baked story around it
  • cutting or simply not writing outline pieces that clearly don’t add to the story, even if I am attached to them, or even if they are funny (and learning other ways to use that material)
  • learning ways to build the author’s platform
  • discovering new depths of truthfulness.

 

Bonuses

  • Surely while writing your first book, you’ll learn more about your own sense of craft. For me that went beyond the book to include writing a hook and the first draft of a formal pitch. Huwah! Nina Amir, who founded WNFIN, has a slew of awesome posts about it.
  • Balancing life and writing has proven problematic for me for years. I’ve always switched to hobbies only after self-inflicted pressure overcame me. Not true anymore. Now I can take a night off, even if I feel like writing, because taking breaks is good. It’s allowed me to preventĀ  problems that would’ve arisen in a few days. It’s also kept me eager to come back.
  • Another writer informed me of Camp NaNoWriMo. Evidently this November experience re-emerges in July. I love the idea of doing this month twice annually!

 

The overall experience of WNFIN/NaNoWriMo has allowed me to engage with my work after a hiatus of almost three months. For that I’m thankful. I’ve banished my hyper-logical senses of deadline and structure in favor of letting the work be organic when necessary, thereby allowing myself to realize my attempts at logic are forced and damning.

The 30-day experiment has given a gift of a December goal too. Looking back on 2011 and early 2012, it’s true what I wrote in my intro to the November writing. This is a writers challenge season. December will focus on writing a short piece, followed in February by a daily submission challenge of that piece. All the while I’ll continue to add to the WIP, keeping some balance in the meantime.

 

 

Reverse Culture Shock & Friends

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Ninety-three days stretch out like the desert floor before my return to the US. Yet the apprehension of reverse culture shock grows. How will I morph around my own culture again after four years abroad?

I imagine myself working in an office environment. My colleagues are talking by the proverbial water cooler. Their lingo– whether it’s references to pop culture, or what happened at last weekend’s pool party– makes me feel foreign.

One colleague catches my confused expression.

“What rock have you been living under?” she asks when I confess.

“Third one from Saturn. I’ve been out of the country for a while.”

Think about those who’ve lived for extended periods on the international space station. What adjustments did they make for life back on Earth? Military personnel returning to civilian life after multiple deployments? What reverse culture shock do they know outside the war zone?

Returning to the US will take a moment and some hits and misses to do things the way people in a 21st-century developed country do. I won’t have to work as hard every hour of the day to communicate, to get something to work, to get somewhere else, to take a shower, to make a meal, to use the Internet. It will be like starting life over yet again, again after a tumultuous 2008, again after two cities in China, again after Hong Kong, again after narrowly escaping with my life in India, again after two cities in Peru. What does readjustment entail?

One of my favorite students recently echoed my concerns.

After giving a presentation on types of friendship, she ended on a note that took on more emotion that perhaps she’d expected. She explains that she and her boyfriend studied in Europe. They broke up while there. When his five months were up, he returned to Peru. She stayed on to complete her one-year program.

Her friendships, apparently, had not also stayed on when she returned to Peru.

Melody has an internship. She excels in school. She sings semi-professionally. But after her exceptional presentation, she almost started to cry. She said her friends had taken the ex-boyfriend’s side. They no longer talked to her. They didn’t ask about her experiences.

I listened. I told her that, from what I saw, her future will contain great success.

“How long have you been back from Europe?” I asked.

“Four months.”

“Oh! That makes all the difference.” A heart tug reminded me of friends I’ve already lost. I focused instead on telling her if her old friends never return to her side, her charming personality will definitely bring in new ones. She’s the one who seizes her opportunities and that will earn her big rewards. She’s got an active, well rounded life and that will take her far. She’s also got the courageous to travel abroad long-term.

I hugged her then and have been watching her closely yet from a distance all week since.

What gratitude I feel for friends who have remained with me through my time abroad. Their support gives me fortitude to handle the reverse culture shock– Even if it takes months to learn the lingo around the water cooler.