“I realized that there’s some parallelism in this: freezing and losing ourselves in a strange culture. In other words, the way to cope with homesickness and cultural stagnation can be summarized in a list of similar steps that the ones followed in order to counter hypothermia.”
A few months ago, whilst writing my new novel, I wanted to portray one of the most complicated steps of the adaptation to a new country. This story is focused on an immigrant who goes to seek her fortune in better lands so, in a dialectic exchange between the two main characters, this foreign girl asks the native how to counter the cold that bashes the European lands, comparing it with the distressing eternal summer of her nation. And so, he explains to her the process of avoiding frostbite in case of an emergency, alluding to the only way to cope with change
While balancing writing and remembering my own cold nights, where the radiator just didn’t make the cut, I realized that there’s some parallelism in this: freezing and losing ourselves in a strange culture. In other words, the way to cope with homesickness and cultural stagnation can be summarized in a list of similar steps that the ones followed in order to counter hypothermia.
So, I wrote down five steps on how to survive a foreign blizzard. In case of emergency.
1) In case of a blizzard, to tend the emergency, the priority must be to withdraw from the cold zone, from air drafts and, immediately, remove ones wet clothes, in case of having them, and dress warmly.
Ah yes, the cold zone. The arrival. The start of facing the unknown and crying on the bed, repeating to yourself “what was going through my mind?” Let’s start by repeating instead I am brave, I am capable. This phrase helped me to wield the blade against those nights in which desolation becomes almost unbearable. If you have arrived to this point, you can take on anything. And the air drafts? The wet clothes?
Paraphrasing my novels’ deuteragonist: “…first, you make sure you keep what is only yours, you shelter it and hide it, so you never lose it.” Yes, it’s important to dress our national identity warmly, to keep it in a box, lock it and safeguard it always near, because it may be whipped by the diverse conditions. No one else will have it in the host country, not identical at least. It’s easy to leave our box forgotten in the snow. Don’t open it when you get there because it’ll hurt. A lot.
2) Make sure you warm up your body with whatever is at your reach. Like blankets or wool clothes.
Homesickness normally creeps in in a way that we clutch ourselves with our little identity box, without wanting to move forward and accept the landscape that’s been presented before our eyes. I remember a moment in my time away from my home country where the touristic places seemed dull, uninteresting. I just wanted to stay locked up in my room, with my pc and the online connection of my friends back home.
There, the skin needs to be warmed with what we have at hand: new neighbors, strolls through the smallest of towns. Meeting the people around you, for more different that they may seem, or the places that at first glance don’t awaken your curiosity. Yes, it may not be the most exciting thing at the beginning, but those little moments warm up the soul.
It gives a new perspective to our eyes and, although it may not feel like that at the moment, we’re learning, maturing, and adapting step by step. If you ever return to your country of origin, you’ll see how much this little interactions and walks can mean. You’ll come to endear them with nostalgia. And even the smallest thing (train travels, the smell of the bakery around the corner…) becomes memorable.
3) Prevent the person from falling asleep and carefully observe their respiration. Normally, the appetite decreases, but eating is necessary to avoid hypoglycemia.
“…Then you get stronger, getting in contact with everything that surrounds you, but without letting yourself forget of who you are. You’ll feel that you don’t need it: your language, your identity, and so, you start to let it fade. Don’t let it happen.” Said the native. Indeed, customs and traditions fade away. The outlines that formerly defined us as an exotic, special person, become blurry in this anticipated step of adaptation. But it’s not to be forgotten that those same differences, that striking skin tone, that intolerance towards new eating habits and the strong, protruding accent, are the ones that have formed us in our host country. They are our roots, and a tree won’t blossom without them. To cut it is to alienate.
4) Move your fingers, hands or feet slowly and constantly. It is popularly believed that the less you move, more body heat will be retained. But it’s vital to keep the body in movement and to massage it in circles to increase the blood flow.
The so-called “superficial adaptation” comes when we enter a comfort zone. Where we’re pleased, where we’re merely fine. This is what I see as the most dangerous step, and the furthest one, towards cultural freezing. Where we get ourselves stuck in a little corner, accepting our facet of the immigrant and making it a part of us, retaining all of the negative connotations it holds as ourselves and coming to settle with a “good enough” situation for “someone like us”. No, you deserve more. More than a derogatory tone when we face the cashier while shopping.
More than becoming the aim of stereotypical jokes and pejorative addressing. Don’t remain neglected, don’t be aggressive either. Keep moving forward, the emotional hole in which we remain stuck will never be a true home, despite that it may seem so at the beginning.
5) Keep the body close tight besides yours or someone else’s, to accelerate body warming
Value your friends. Your foreign brothers, your broken-heart-colleagues. You’ll realize that, indeed, having a family isn’t always about sharing blood, but sharing hardships, tears. Nobody knows how long is the path that you’ve had to go through, but they may know how hard it is, they’ve walked their own.
When you find people that, besides language barriers, social conventions and cultural brakes, you can still manage to understand, you’ll have discovered that secret language that only the ones that have crossed frontiers know, that only the ones who have befriended someone who resides on the other side of the world can speak. That only the ones who’ve had to say goodbye to someone to faraway lands can read in someone else’s gestures.
Treasure them. Show them your identity, open the box. And so, we won’t be frozen in an episode of our lives, but own it, and make it a part of a whole.
“And when you learn to tell them apart, you will have found a home. It may not be the most comfortable one, or the safest. But a home, at the end of the day.”
This guest post is an extract from the novel Cómo sobrevivir una tormenta extranjera (How to survive a foreign storm), Larissa Quesada