Tuesday, October 29, 2013

13 Suggestions for Homesickness/ Culture Shock

Since I posted about culture shock, I've been paying more attention to what alleviates the pain or makes days easier to navigate. Then, a friend asked for some suggestions on dealing with homesickness. Threw some things down on paper and thought I'd share them here as well:

Nota Bene: Every person is different. The suggestions I found on websites for dealing with cultural shock were only marginally helpful. Make your own lists. The key is to pay attention to your insides: what helps? What doesn't?

  1. Wallowing helps nothing. Don't wallow.
  2.  Take it one task at a time. Some days, I can't think about the whole thing. I think, "Get up make bed." Then once I do that I think, "Take a shower" and I only think about finishing the shower. "Eat breakfast". I don't teach early so this process can take longer which is helpful for me. Sometimes the whole "to do" list made me give up and then I'd just sit and feel the emotions too strongly. Some days, the goals just needs to be KEEP MOVING.
  3.  Sleep has been a challenge on and off. But trying to at least sit in bed at the same time every night, book in hand, has helped me establish regularity. I sleep well, I feel better. No question.
  4. Recount the victories at the end of a day. That victory might have been one student smiling at you. Or buying veggies. I tend to feel most frustrated while trying to accomplish life tasks like buying food. Things that I once never thought about. But when I celebrate that I did them at all, the frustration lessens and I feel more encouraged about where I am. Robbie has to remind me to do this. I tend to just vent and complain unless I'm reminded to celebrate.
  5. Facebook makes everyone seem happier than you are. Skip the newsfeed and stick to responding to notifications and messages or using it for work. Write emails or letters instead.
  6. Overcome tech problems as best as you can. Skype makes me irrationally, passionately angry. I've been using viber instead. It works so much better. Minimizing tech difficulties helps me. I think it's a mental crutch and security blanket. Whatever. It's helped.
  7.  Have something to look forward to in each week. For me, it's often the promise that I can skip town on a weekend. However, I'm pretty committed to staying here as often as I can to develop connections and friendships. So when I skip town its often to somewhere super local. I go for one night or just for the day. LEAVING HELPS. Seeing somewhere new triggers all kinds of physical and mental responses and it gives me energy away from all the overwhelming things that are still overwhelming but getting devastatingly normal and boring.
  8. And by leaving, also leave the apartment. Walks to remind me that I'm in Bulgaria (!!!!!) help refocus my thinking and attitudes.
  9. Environment affects me. A lot. I spent a lot of time working on my apartment to make it comfortable or feel like MINE. Cleaning it or hanging a picture or covering peeling wallpaper or getting lamp for next to my bed or organizing a drawer: this bizarrely make me feel a sense of belonging and ownership. Not everyone is like that. I'm also the last person to be considered a neat freak. Not what I'm saying. But after a month, it looks like I've been here for longer than that. Each room has a statement that says "Dana was here and lives here and will someday belong here." In my bathroom... that's just the fact that I bought a trashcan to go in there. 
  10. A note on the one above: a lot of websites said to surround yourself with pictures from home or call home frequently to reduce home sickness. I think that can also increase the "wallowing" in separation blues. A better tactic is to surround yourself with objects that remind you that you have a history. You've lived life before this moment. There were good moments and bad moments. You'll have a tomorrow and today will just be another moment. If that's pictures of home, then great. If that makes it worse, then don't.
  11.  Tell someone. I like seeing Aviva (the Fulbrighter closest to me) when I can or seeing people who come visit the Black Sea. Or tell people from home. I have a group of 5 women who have committed to pray for me. I send them specific requests regularly. Knowing that I have their committed and constant support, emotionally and spiritually, helps!
  12. Spiritual support. If you practice a faith (I'm born and bred American evangelical, through and through), find a community and be part of it. Also practice on your own. Don't let habits flag. You need them more than ever.
  13.  If it is really crippling, get more professional help.  Find a counselor in your town who speaks English. Don't let homesickness become full out depression. If you've struggled with depression before, this suggestion isn't an option. Everyone needs help. Being physically and culturally isolated can trigger those past mental and physical states. Ask about available help!
It gets better. It has to. I'm feeling so much better at the end of October than I did at the beginning. A renewed sense of purpose. More at ease with teaching. More confident in classroom management. New goals. Fledgling attempts at language learning.

Okay, so the sunshine might have been helping that too...


Vinny Wilson said...

Sending love your way dear friend! Great suggestions on this list. They remind me of ways I can help Jade overcome being home sick and culture shocked. Thanks again!

moonpup said...

My dear friend,

I'm so glad you're being constructive with your homesickness and challenges, rather than destructive. Your list is wonderfully comprehensive! It WILL get better. Soon you'll look back and realize how far you've come. There's always honey and salt, too!

Dana M. Ray said...

Vince: Thank you.

Morgan: I forgot to add those two! I eat so much Bulgarian honey and salty cerene. So. Much.