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Homesickness, Living Abroad

How To Survive Homesickness Hypothermia

“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

Exchange Student Problems, Homesickness, Mid-Exchange, Study Abroad, Study Abroad 101

Why Christmas Might Be The Hardest Time To Be Abroad

To be honest, I am not a big fan of Christmas. In my family it is not really a big deal, plus I hate cold weather. Two reasons why I thought I wouldn´t have a lot of problems being in a tropical paradise around this time of year. I was excited to experience such a big event in a different country/culture, and I was excited for not having to spend it in the actual winter. But in reality I thought the time around Christmas to be much harder and in all honesty, it might have been the only time I actually felt homesick. Here are some reasons why Christmas for many students might be the hardest time to be abroad

#1 It´s a family thing

Like I mentioned, yes, Christmas is usually celebrated with family, and although I did not actively missed my family during my exchange as I was just too busy with other things, not spending Christmas with them did feel a little weird. Suddenly I felt nostalgic over all the drama that usually comes with the last days of December.

You don´t even have to be a family person to miss your family during Christmas, which would make it all the harder for those who do actively miss their family. Being with a new family that probably still feels too new to really feel the same comfort with as at home, not having this ´tradition´ to look forward to, which can make it a hard time of year

#2 It doesn´t feel like ´ Christmas´

Yes, you know it´s going to be different, but you still have this expectations of a feeling you always get, so when it´s 30 degrees warmer outside or your family doesn´t have a Christmas tree, it might not ‘feel´ like that celebration you usually love to much, and it´s hard to get into something when you are not ´feeling it´.

#3 It comes at the worst time of your exchange

Depending on when you leave for your exchange, Christmas usually comes in the middle of an exchange. This means you have probably already gotten used to your host country. Everything feels normal, to the degree it starts getting boring. Your host family starts to feel like real family, to the degree that you are starting to feel little annoyances with them.

In the Cultural Adjustment Cycle, you would commonly find yourself in stage 4 now, where you have overcome the initial adjustment and are now getting to know the deeper issues of a culture.

 

For those who have not seen it during their orientation camps, culture is often compared to an iceberg. There are a lof of obvious things that everyone can see. The way people dress, eat, etc. These things are strange at first, and you have to get used to them, but they are also quite easy to accept.
But any iceberg, as we all know, is much larger underwater than above the water, which means there are many many more things that we don´t see. Those things are not only harder to see, they also go way deeper into someone´s way of thinking. Eating might be a fairly easy thing to change, but things such as hand gestures might be so unconscious they are way harder to address.

And to continue the iceberg metaphor, icebergs are more likely to clash ´underwater´.

Without making this post too preachy; it is normal to have a little dip during this Christmas period. It is in fact part of your cultural assimilation (and means that you are on track). Believe me, I had a period where I hated everything about my host country. I wasn´t necessarily feeling homesick, but I was also not understanding the local culture which was extremely frustrating. But in the end, it passed, and without trying to claim I now ‘fully understand´ my host culture, bit by bit you will start accepting, understanding and appreciating it more.

But for now, good luck in these hard times and I wish you all a MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

Note; These experiences are generalized and are not the same for everyone. If you are having a great time and are feeling none of these issues at all, I am really happy for you 🙂

Exchange Student Problems, Final months of exchange, Homesickness

Homesickness: Fact or Fiction?

If you know me at all, you know I’m one to take risks. I’d rather jump off the deep end than ease in from the shallow side. This is how I ended up in South America. Why go to college close to home when you can get on a plane and go to another part of the world for a year? So far this thinking is working well for me. However, there’s a misconception that people who dive into the deep end also never look back.

“Are you homesick?” A frequent question I get. The short answer, no. The long, well… keep reading.

I was hesitant to write this because I don’t want people thinking I’m having a bad time or want to go home–that’s completely incorrect. My life here is still great. But I also feel a bit cold when I solemnly answer “no,” as if my life before was so mundane that I’ve already forgotten it.

So no, I’m not homesick. That’s the truth. No part of me wants to board the next plane to Minneapolis. However, I still often think of my life back home and although I’m not homesick, there are still things I miss.

It goes like this: while driving to school here I’ll think of how I’d walk to school in the fall. I’ll remember that autumn smell in the air and the sound of the leaves and I’ll think, I miss that.

Or, I’ll be at an ice cream shop and remember eating the melty top layer of ice cream from the container with my mom right after we’d brought it home from the store and I’ll think, I miss that, too.

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When someone asks me about carving pumpkins, something not done here, I’ll remember my dad calling me “Pumkin,” and I’ll even miss rolling my eyes when he tells, yet again, the story with the nickname (ask him for details).

I miss the smell of my mom’s French toast cooking on a Saturday morning, chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin spice lattes, my cat’s persistent meowing. I miss sleepovers at my grandma’s, late night baking with my closest friends.

The part hard to convey in words is how these memories make me feel isn’t homesick. The only sad part about them is how I didn’t appreciate them as much as I wish I had. The sad truth is, I didn’t realize how much I loved my life until I left it. Again, this isn’t because my life here is bad, because it’s not. But when you take away what you’ve always had and surround yourself with a new world, the important parts don’t fade away, they become clearer.

I’ve never had a moment here where I thought, “Wow, I really miss those expensive shoes I bought!” or “I’m so happy I worried so much about always having perfect hair!” No, those are the parts that are fading.

I become more grateful with each memory that surfaces. Grateful for eighteen years of sleepovers at my grandma’s, for chocolate chip cookies and cool autumn breezes. For French toast, nicknames, and perfectly melty ice cream.

I’ve never wished to grow up faster. From the time my dad said I was too big for piggy backs, I wanted to be smaller again.

That’s why the day I turned from my family at the airport, there were tears in my eyes. I realized then that my life wasn’t just changing for a year, it was changing forever. I don’t get to be a kid anymore. And I’m not going to lie, that part does make me sad but the beautiful truth of missing what you had is that it means what you had is worth missing. It means you were lucky. And by God, was I ever.

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I’ve had parents who’ve supported me from odd requests such as “I want to play the harp,” to “I want to go to South America.” I’ve had an extended family that made family get-togethers something I loved. I’ve had a church community that is not just my church, but my family.

I’ve had so much yet I’ve appreciated so little. While this makes me a little mad at myself, it doesn’t make me sad because, although that last paragraph is written in the past tense, I know that it’s still my present.

I have a church family that loves and supports me, even from so far away. I have the best (sometimes craziest) extended family. I have the best, supportive parents.

Coming here did not make me lose any of these things, it’s only extending my list.

I know that a year from now, I’ll miss the smell of the tea-like drink Cocido. I’ll miss seeing the skyline of Argentina across the river peeking through the morning mist each day. I’ll miss singing in the band and the sound of my sibling’s laughter.

Many say that thinking of home will only make you sad– but for me, it’s the opposite. I’m not homesick because I know I won’t take for granted the details I now know I cherish. Just because something is in your past doesn’t mean it can’t still be in your future.

Mom, even when you’re 99 I’ll buy us melty ice cream to eat together. I’ll come home from college just to get pumpkin spice lattes with you. Dad, I’ll always be your pumkin (I also still accept piggy back rides if you were wondering). And Grandma, I hope you realize I’m still planning on having sleepovers at your house.

There is no age limit to do the things you love. I’m forever grateful for this opportunity because I now see how precious each day really is. What I’ve realized is this– you can either live in moments you realize you love later, or you can love the moments that you live in now.

 

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This guest post was written by Jackie Warehime, an 18 year old girl from Minnesota who is currently spending her exchange year in Paraguay. Want to read more from her then visit her blog  Jackie in Paraguay

Exchange Example Stories, Exchange Student Problems, Homesickness

I Lost My Father During My Exchange

Sunday, November 16, I had skyped with my mom , because I felt homesick (which you are not supposed to do). My mom asked me if I wanted to skype with my dad a little later that day, but I could not due to homesickness-shopping with one of my best friends. The next morning my alarm went off at 6:15, so like every other morning I checked if I had missed any messages on my phone from back home. It looked like a bomb of notifications had exploded. Some messages were short, some were longer, but they all came down to one thing: “I am so sorry for your loss.”

A year abroad is an exceptional thing to experience and it helps you discover yourself in ways you will never expect. Being far away from home in another country, another culture, gives you space to develop your own abilities and helps you to see the world with broader perception. You will read all about that in so many different blogposts, but that is not what this one is about. This post is not about all the happy things, homesickness, culture shock or any other common ‘year abroad’ experiences. This one is about losing people close to you while you are 4000 miles away.

Unfortunately, I have experienced this during my year abroad. In July of 2014, two weeks after my arrival in the United States, a close family friend died. Two months later, my granddad died, but on November 17, my very own dad passed away unexpectedly. That morning I was in total shock because of all the messages. My host-parents came running into my room as soon as they had noticed that I was awake. They told me to skype with my family right away. It seemed to take forever for my laptop to open skype, but then I finally got the news. The rest of the day consisted of sobbing, packing and saying goodbye to my friends. Before I realized it, I was back at the airport and on my way home.

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Being abroad while somebody close to you dies has two sides. On the one hand you will never feel more alone, nobody in your host-country has a clue who your loved one is and what part of your life he/she has been. They just know you and the fact that you are leaving all of a sudden, maybe they will never see you again. Besides this, you are not with your biological family. You miss the words, hugs and smells you have been used to since you were born. You are not able to support the most important people in your life. On the other hand, you will not have to experience death from that close. My dad died at home next to my mom, while my brother’s girlfriend performed CPR and the whole emergency team was arriving. To be honest, I am glad that I did not have to see all of that. Though, the most devastating thing is to know that the day you left, the goodbye was for real. You left, but you were not the one to leave forever.

After 3 weeks of being at home I decided to go back and finish my year abroad. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. You want to be there for your family, of course, but you also do not want to have that ‘what if…’ feeling. Thanks to my mom I was able to make the decision to go back. This decision is different for everyone and depends on the strength of your family members too, it is not just you. Thanks to my organization I did not even have to worry about plane tickets, they arranged everything for me. In a week I was back at the airport, surrounded by my host-family and one of my best friends who had come with them. I cannot thank my host-family enough for all of their support and kindness.

If you are ever at this point in your life where you have to decide to stay with you family or to continue your adventure, do talk with your family about your thoughts. Communication is key, to everything actually.

Living abroad gives you the feeling that you are living a different life, being a different version of yourself. Everybody likes or dislikes you for who you are, instead of who you are related to. The hardest part about coming back, was that nobody knows your loss. Your lost one did not live in this other world. Because you do not see any of your biological family, you miss everyone as much as you miss your lost one, or you do not miss them, depending on how you feel. I know this may be

really hard to understand, but I cannot think of any other way to put it. This did result in some terrible moments of wake-up-calls. All of a sudden there is the realization that the person that you used to see as your invincible hero (at least that how I saw my dad as a kid), is no longer invincible. Those are the really hard times and whenever that happened it crushed me. Unfortunately I did not realize, back then, that it would be wise to talk to somebody. Whenever you are in that very situation, hopefully never, please do talk to somebody. It is like homesickness, do not deal with it alone. Though, there are times that you just want to be alone. There were times that I did not even wanted to be myself and I wished that I was somebody else. Then I would just know this person who experienced all of this. All these feelings will get weaker over time. It is like the waves on the water after a ship has passed. Over time it gets calmer. Even though people tell you that time heals the pain, you will come to see that is does not. You just learn to live with it.

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As I am writing this I have been back in my home country for almost two months. It is already been a year since I traveled to the United States for the first time and touched my dad for the last time. Coming back was the strangest feeling. The first night I heard some noises downstairs and as a reflex I thought that it was my dad, but it was not. Then of course there was the fact that everyone around me has been living in this world without my dad. On top that I just felt empty, that awful feeling is the price you have to pay for your exchange. It is like you have been asleep for 10 months and everything has been a dream, because no one knows what or who you are talking about. Sometimes it still feels all wrong.

I have been trying to find an article from somebody who has experienced something comparable, but I did not find any. For the people who encounter the same struggles as I did, just know you are not alone.

This incredibly brave guest post was written by Sofie van den Brand, a Dutch girl who spent her exchange year in the United States of America.

Exchange, Homesickness, Study Abroad, Study Abroad 101

How To Keep Contact With Your Friends And Family While Abroad

... and how not to

As a returnee, there are many advises I can give you. And you have probably heard all of them.
“Enjoy your exchange, it is the best year of your life, make the most of it” etc etc. But the reality of an exchange is often harder than it seems. People keep telling you to have a good time, while in fact you might be having a really hard time. You miss home, you miss your friends and if you could you would Skype with them all the time.

Don’t.

Instead try to keep in mind the following when keeping contact with your family.

 Avoid constant contact with your friends and family back home

I know this seems harsh, but the fact is that being in contact with home constantly will not only keep you away from the experience of being there, it will also make the homesickness much and much worse. Yes it may seem to help at first, but in reality it will only make you realize that what you have back home that you don’t have in your host country. And yes, you might not have friends that know you completely. Your host family might not understand you at all times. But that is the experience. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you should – yes, I will say it again – make the most out of it. photo-1414604582943-2fd913b3cb17

Regulate/schedule the times on which you Skype with your friends and family 

Does that mean you can never talk to your loved ones? Of course not. But keep it regulated. Make a schedule and don’t talk to them more than once every few days. Having a fixed time for talking to your friends and family back home might help you feel more calm, because instead of every time you miss them you will talk and using the contact as some kind of drug, you are regulating it.

Write a blog

Sometimes you just have all these thoughts and emotions that you want to share with people – or maybe not. One thing I can definitely recommend from my exchange is keeping a blog.

Why?

First of all, because everyone can read it. That means you don’t have to tell your mother, aunt, cousin, friends and neighbours all individually what exactly you did that weekend. This will safe you a lot of time in unnecessary conversations on social media. If you don’t your feelings to be out in the open, you can always keep an email list and send it to everybody personally.

Another reason why keeping a blog is great is because later you can read it back and remember all the little details of your exchange, which is great! (Trust me, you will forget about 80% of what happened)

In the end you will probably not write on your blog as often as you’d like, but that’s okay. You can even just make smaller updates of maybe 100 or 200 words. Any update will be read with a lot of joy back home and keeps them updated on how you are doing.

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Write letters

Another great way of writing off your emotions is to write letters. During your exchange you will probably start appreciating your friends and family much more than you did before. Let them know!

Let’s face it, it doesn’t get more personal than a letter. I think every time I received a letter from my mother I cried, no matter what she wrote down, and I know she had the same reaction to my letters. You just don’t get that kind of intimacy through a Whatsapp message.

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Don’t tell them about all the times you are feeling down

I know you want to tell them. You want to tell someone you know (and someone who knows you) but the truth is, when you are having a good time you will probably not tell them. Not so explicitly. That means that in the end, parents get worried, friends think you are having a bad time while in fact, you are probably only having a bad time when you are talking to them.

It happened to me that a lot of people started sending me messages asking me if I was alright. Apparently I had told my mom I was having a hard time, but that feeling passed. Not for my mom. And when my family asked her how I was doing, she told them what I had told her; that I was having a bad time. By the time the messages reached me I had already forgotten that I was feeling down the days before.

In conclusion, it is very hard for your family to know what is going on. They don’t know the cultural context and they don’t know the experience of studying abroad. The information you give them is always limited and that’s all they get, and although it might seem comforting your parents or friends are probably the last people who are going to understand what you are going through. 

My parents often tried to give me well-meant advice. “Can’t you just..” “But why don’t you just.. “. No, actually it is not that easy and it is hard to explain that to someone who hasn’t been there.

Remember it is only for a limited period of time

And although that might seem like an eternity right now, time will pass by extremely fast and before you know it you are back home on the couch with your parents. Only you don’t have so many things to tell them, because you already told them everything when you were there. In your exchange, as in life, there is only one certainty: it will end! Once you are back home you are going to wish you had spent less time on the internet talking to the people you would eventually talk to again and more time talking to the people around you.

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