Posts Tagged ‘homesick’

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Whitney: Continued homesickness

November 27, 2011

Tomorrow is the 28th of November and it marks the two-month anniversary of my departure from the U.S. I wish I could say that in that amount of time I’ve traveled to seven different countries, tasted crazy foods, tried dozens of new activities, and made friends that will last a lifetime, but I really can’t. These first two months have been an immense struggle for me, and I fear that the water up ahead may be just as rocky. I have had good days and bad, but the good ones are always just good and the bad ones are usually really bad. I’ve found myself seriously considering just giving up and flying home to where I’m loved and people are there to hold me when I just need to cry. I sometimes get tears in my eyes when I see a plane leaving Berlin because I know that some of the people on that plane are about to be back in their loved one’s arms, and I don’t get to be one of them. It’s so hard to convince myself that I’ll eventually find close friends and true happiness here while simultaneously holding on to my life back home. But even harder, I think, is the fact that I am ashamed of how homesick and sad I am, because I thought I was strong enough to fight through it with a deep breathe and a smile. I hope I can write another post in a few weeks about some new friends who help me pull through this major slump, but even if that’s not in the cards for me fight now, I’m going to try my best to be content on my own.

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Margaret: 假的 – jiǎ de – fake

October 25, 2011

One of my American friends here grew up on the east coast and is attending a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania studying business.  Some weeks ago a few of us were out for drinks when he asked us what cities he should try beginning his career in after graduation.  Naturally, I suggested Minneapolis – I’ve always seen it as a great place to be a young professional thanks to a good local economy and several Fortune 500 companies.  Beyond that, the city literally sparkles.  There’s a distinct Midwesterness about it.  Lakes and lush green parks nestle into urban areas, cut and crisscrossed by 84 miles of off-street trail, while the old brick buildings of the mill district remind of boom time long ago when the city was the flour milling capital of the world, all thanks to the mighty Mississippi – as if we needed even more beautiful shoreline.  One of my favorite images of the city is the view from Lake Harriet.  Take away the skyscrapers and you’ve got the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  Can’t.  Beat.  That.  My friend, however, was less than interested.  “Uhhh what!?  Why would I EVER go to Minneapolis?  Isn’t it like just a farm?”

When I close my eyes and think about home, I see the St. Paul campus in all its midsummer glory, surrounded by the wheat and the corn and the barley and blue sky and big white clouds.  I see myself in the heat of the greenhouses during a blizzard, working late into the evening.  I see myself waking up before the sun to bundle up and trek through subzero wind chill to the cozy Al’s Breakfast for a short stack drizzled with real maple syrup.  I see myself leaving a lecture, inspired, mind completely blown.  I see myself getting dressed up on a Friday night for a date in Tea Garden with my O-chem book.  Call me a nerd (please!) or nostalgic, but these are the things I miss so much that I haven’t been able to recreate here.  Minnesota is a great place, and I always knew that, but I think it took leaving for it to really sink in.  It’s the human condition, isn’t it?  I’m here missing home, and in a year, I’ll be home missing China.  Shucks…

I’ve sort of been down and out this week, increasingly dissatisfied with my phony Chinese life.  I used to always look down upon all the rich hipster kids from the University of Minnesota who go away on their dream study abroad vacations to Spain or Paris, where they have classes in English with other students from the U.  They take a million pictures of themselves in bikinis on the beach or at clubs until three in the morning and post them in obnoxiously titled album on Facebook to show the rest of us how much better their little fairytale life is than our own in sad Minnesota.  Then when they come back, they banter on and on about how “living” in Valencia have them a wider worldview and increased cultural competency.  I always thought, “I’m going to China.  I’m actually doing something real with my experience.”  And yet here am I, with the stereotypical travel blog, living a life as fake as the fake 100 yuan notes that fake cab driver handed me at four in the morning after a night out a few weeks ago.  I’ve got nothing on those hipster kids after all.

Many people (mom!) have false ideas of what studying abroad is like.  “You’ll get there and you’ll interact with the culture and you’ll make all these great Chinese friends right away and on Spring Festival, one of them will invite you home to their electricity- and modern sanitation-lacking village where their mother will teach you how to make dumplings and their father will teach you how to play erhu and they will invite you to name their newborn nephew.”

Easier.

Said.

Than.

Done.

In reality, my fake Chinese life is mostly devoted to trying to stay sane.  I spend so much energy each and everyday staring blankly up at my professors for six hours, trying not to get killed by a bus on the way to school, and finding a seat in a cafeteria packed three times its capacity that I don’t have anything left to give.  What do I do to try to stay sane?  Eating Skippy peanut butter out of a can with a spoon. Gouging myself on Snickers that taste a little off.  Going to WuDaoKou, the expat student area, to sit in an overpriced coffee shop eating an overpriced pathetic attempt at a panini and drinking overpriced tea bag tea with other lazy expats who, like myself, are too scared of real China to leave the cozy confines of the cafe.  Going through the motions until Thursday when I start my weekend early by dressing up and going out to expat bar areas with my American friends whom I pretend to like more than I do to dance the morning away until I roll out of bed the next afternoon and do it all over again.  Three times.

Fake Life Confessions:

I have no Chinese friends.  My language partner is Korean.  And I quickly discovered that the one Chinese friend I did have (her name was Smile) was using other foreigners and me for our English.  She told us she goes to Beida, but we found out she’s not even in college, and she’d blow up my phone every other day saying, “I’ll be waiting for you (insert place) at (insert time),” without even asking me if I wanted to meet or if I was free.  Most of the time, I feel conversing with a Chinese person, even if they’re conversant in English, takes tons of energy and effort, and I find that if given the choice, I will always choose returning to Zhongguanxinyuan to pass out over “hanging out.”  Do Chinese people hang out?  I don’t even know.

I haven’t relaxed in two months.  The trials of each day leave me absolutely exhausted, and unfortunately I have yet to uncover a method to relieve my daily agitation.  In America if I’m feeling stressed out, I can hop on my bike and be on a trail in ten seconds.  Think there is such a thing as trails in Beijing?  Think again.  If I had a bike, I’d be subjected to crazy driver-laden streets, and my bike would likely be stolen within a few months.  Go for a run, you say?  Have fun getting lung disease.  Beijing doesn’t really do parks either, unless it has an admission fee, a few hundred years of history, and about a thousand daily visitors.  I can’t relax when my roommate is around, which she always is, even on Friday and Saturday nights.  I’ve already read the two English books that I brought here (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and a biography of Norman Borlaug of course), so I’ve started watching bootlegged movies on the internet.  I don’t even like film.  Maybe after this year though, I will cease to be made fun of for all the movies I haven’t seen…

I haven’t been anywhere in the city besides the university and three expat hangout areas.  My life is a constant rotation.  Beida, WuDaoKou, Beida, Sanlitun, Beida, Beida, Houhai, Beida, WuDaoKou, Beida.  I really haven’t even done anything else here besides school; shopping for fake goods at fake markets; searching for sad attempts at pizza, burgers, and sandwiches; and going to bars and clubs where white people are the majority.  One of my favorite restaurants, Pyro Pizza, is styled exactly like an American college bar, completely with beer pong tables, banners hanging from the ceiling that read “WuDaoKou Football Champions 1977,” and large glass beer steins filled with fake Budweiser.  I can close my eyes and pretend the gophers just lost and I’ve gone to Campus Pizza with some friends after the game.

I love McDonalds.  My girlfriend asked me the other day what I would eat if I could eat anything in Beijing.  I would eat McDonalds.  Hands down, no competition.  Although last weekend I went to the city’s only Burger King, and I must say, their fries are better.

China’s culture is increasingly more fake.  They’ve become obsessed with the West in every way and want more than anything to become rich like America.  Women will bleach their skin white and undergo blepharoplasty cosmetic surgery to create a double eyelid.  They love Nike, they love The North Face, they love Starbucks.  Buddhism is becoming commercialized.  They built a fake section of the Great Wall to capitalize on tourism.  Enough said.

My fake Chinese life has left me exhausted, and I haven’t left the confines of my cold tiled dorm room this weekend save for a frustrating erhu lesson.  Mom sent me a wonderful box full of twizzlers, peeps, granola bars, smarties, etc. and I’ve made dinner out of it for the past two nights and didn’t feel an ounce of guilt about it.  When I woke up this morning, my skin had broken out entirely, worse than it’s been since my middle school pizza face days.  Oh hey body, looks like you forgot all about high fructose corn syrup.  Ahh fake sugar, how I’ve missed you.

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Whitney: times they are a-changin’

October 19, 2011

Up until today, I really haven’t been happy for more than a few minutes at a time. It’s been so hard to convince myself that coming to Berlin was the right decision because all I could feel was loneliness and all I could think about was everything I might’ve been missing back in West Bend and Minneapolis. I mean, thinking logically, a person should stay in the same city (or at the very least the same country) as the people they love. But here I am – 4,000 miles away from everyone that I love. I can’t help but look forward to the part of the day when I get to see a blurry version of Gus on my computer screen or an email from my mom in my inbox even though I should be looking forward to the millions of things I can do and places I can see in this wonderful city. Thankfully I can say that today, for the first time, I feel like I am not alone in this. I had my first ‘German as a Second Language’ class today, and even though I was the only American, it was so comforting to know that eveyone was new, everyone had no idea what was going on, and everyone was really nice. We did some corny activities to get to know eachother and since I’m from so far away everyone was genuinely interested in what I had to say. God, it was just so refreshing! That class meets again tomorrow, and I really hope it continues to push me away from fear and regret and in the direction of happiness and success.

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Whitney: Today was a hard day…

October 13, 2011

Today was a hard day. I can’t really even explain why, but it was just one of those days when everything seemed to remind me of the things I miss most back home. And the hardest part is that after the first wave of home sickness hits me, it becomes like a case of hiccups that I just can’t kick. The kind of hiccups that hurts in your throat, too. All I want to do is crawl into a loved one’s arms and talk to them about it so that I can feel better, but since that’s not possible it just makes the metaphorical hiccups all the more painful. I decided to explore the city with my camera this evening in order to get my mind off of it, and I ended up getting some really beautiful shots as the sun was setting. It was almost as though the clouds had a silver lining waiting for me because they knew I had such a tough day.

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Emily: Homesickness sets in

September 10, 2011

I am not sure this is the best time for me to write my first post in Barcelona because the truth of the matter is that I am one hundred and fifty percent homesick. There are so many things that frustrate me–the language barrier, moving in with a new family that has different views than me, living in a place that is hot and humid but none of the buildings have air conditioning. (See! I sound like a complete downer right now!)

Study abroad materials say that homesickness is natural (although technically I should still be in the “honeymoon” stage where everything is new and exciting.) However, I have decided that some of my homesickness might actually be sadness of changes and growing up, on top of the homesickness. Let me explain. This summer, I spent a wonderful three months with my family–helping my dad, road tripping to Chicago, Montana, and Colorado with my family, going shopping and to movies with my mom. And there was also the bonus that I got to see my boyfriend and talk to him every single day on the telephone for at least seven minutes. Here, I am stuck with Skyping (if the internet connection feels like it) and Facebook chatting. My sister is also starting her first semester at college and it was so fun the last few weeks to be excited with her. And finally, it was my last summer at home. In May I will be graduating and actually become part of the real world. No more Criminal Minds marathons on Tuesday afternoon. No more daily evening walks with my mom and the dogs. Sure these things may happen here and there, but not all summer. I know that I should be excited for this next chapter of my life. But I have always had trouble letting go (which is probably why I watched the Disney movie Tangled two days before leaving for Spain!). Tomorrow in order to combat this homesickness, I am going to try to fill the day with sightseeing. I may actually be a tourist for the day and pay for the overpriced ticket that gets you on a double-decker, open-topped, bus and take a tour of the city. I still do not know my way around completely so I could even say that it would be educational. Plus, it is something my family would do if we were here together (Since that is what we did in DC and London). I will try to write a more upbeat post soon because there are some pretty cool and exciting things to talk about as well.

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Katie: Homesickness

June 1, 2011

Wow it has been a whirlwind of two weeks! I feel like I am starting to get the hang of London…kind of. Though they speak English and there are a lot of things that are similar to life in the US, I feel lost here. Not the lost that requires directions, because to be honest, I am quite good with directions and finding my way. I feel lost in a different sense. To just go to class I have to think twice as hard to do normal, everyday activities. I have to make sure I look right and then left before crossing the street. I am constantly having to flip over the coins in my hand to read whether it is a five pence or ten pence or twenty pence. In the US we walk on the right side, just like we drive. In London, they drive on the left side, so it would only make sense that you would also walk on the left side. Not true. London is a city full of confused people that don’t know what side to walk on, so everyone just walks on both sides pushing and running into one another, without even a mutter of an apology. 

Now, I’m not trying to dis on London, it is a great and wonderful city, full of life, color, and it is different. I think that last word is what describes these last two weeks perfectly. It is not that the US is better in any way or that I hate what I have experienced so far in this new city. It is simply just different. And the difference and sudden change is just jarring and confusing and difficult. This week was the week of homesickness. I feel the distance that is separating me from home, from what I know and what comes easy. It seems like a lot of people were hit with homesickness this weekend. How did we comfort ourselves you ask? We went to an American diner 🙂 Filling up with a cheeseburger, fries, onion rings, and a milk shake. It left us satisfied and gave us a little piece of home to carry with us as we begin our week. Today was a bank holiday in London and Memorial day in the US so I guess you can say we “grilled out” for the Memorial Day weekend and celebrated by eating American food. 

The “vacation” feel of the trip has worn off, and I am now into homework and working 20 hours a week at my internship at Aftershock London. I am excited to learn through these opportunities as well. I think there is only so much you can learn by going on tours, I look forward to learning through the people I interact with at my internship in addition to exploring the city. 

This week we ventured out to Stonehenge and Bath. Stonehenge being the big rocks in the middle of nowhere. And Bath being the home of Jane Austen and the ancient Roman bath made from the natural hot springs located underneath the city. The trip into the countryside of London was definitely a breath of fresh air (literally). It was nice to have space to have a personal bubble again, not to mention get away from the smog and exhaust fumes of the city. (don’t read this if you are easily grossed out and don’t say I didn’t warn you—my snot has been black from all of the smog and pollution in the air ever since I got here.). The country was nice and it was fun to see the city that was inspiration to Jane Austen and then getting to watch Pride & Prejudice on the 2 hr bus ride home. 

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I was told that Stonehenge is not that exciting so I was preparing myself to be disappointed. I was surprised to actually enjoy Stonehenge a lot. We also made our own fun, taking pictures and trying to make it look like we were pushing down one of the rocks.

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 Friday evening we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum for a party. The museum was focusing on fashion designer Yohgi Yamamoto and we got to explore and partake in special events and activities focused around his art.

I got caught in my first thunderstorm so far in London. My shoes and the ankles of my jeans were soaked. I bought a cheap sweatshirt to keep warm and decided to keep exploring Leicester Square since I was already wet and didn’t feel like going back to my flat and wasting the rest of the day inside.

We also made a trip to the London Eye. Going at sunset was a great choice.

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We were able to have enough light to take amazing pictures and then when we were done, we got to see Big Ben at night.

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Kelly: los fines de semana

March 6, 2011

Story from a few weekends ago: We (a group of 8 ) were at a club/bar on Saturday night where we were dancing and celebrating the birthdays of Toby and me. We were enjoying ourselves and looking like an obvious group of gringos who can’t latin dance when a male and female stripper appeared on the stage in front of the club. They each twirled around solo for a while and then started pulling people from the audience to, um, entertain. In several minutes, all layers expect the skimpy undies (the woman was wearing several pairs to start…I don’t understand) came off. And THEN, my wonderful friends Geoff and Toby decided to push me all the way up to the stage; Toby promised to go with me as he was dragging me towards the front, but decided to change his mind as soon as I was pulled up on stage. After a minute, the terminator-like man listened to my “No, no quiero estar aquí.” He gave me a hand off the stage, and I went back to my friends and punched Geoff and Toby in the arms. We left soon after.

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The past weekend: I went to Otavalo to visit my future internship site at El Centro Médico de Orientación y Planificación Familiar (CEMOPLAF: http://www.cemoplaf.org/qs_desc.htm). I had a fantastic welcome and think I’ll have a great time there. I’ll be working on sexual health and family planning education projects, or, like Regina (the Peace Corps volunteer from Beaver Damn, WI) told me, “Whatever you want to help out with, really.” I’m excited to start my internship and am waiting to hear who my new host family will be. My mom in Quito has been making sad faces about me leaving for a week now- I feel the same, but will be close enough to visit easily. Regina and I had lunch at a family restaurant; I managed to eat a fish served whole without swallowing too many bones. We walked to Regina’s host family’s house and, again, I was graciously accepted. As we snacked on cheese, potatoes, and popcorn, Lesli, the ten-year-old host sister, asked me if I liked cuy (remember, cuy=guinea pig). She explained that she loved cuy- as animals and to eat- and suggested I try it sometime, even though I don’t eat meat. I think she’s probably right…

As I waited for friends to arrive in Otavalo, I hung out at a restaurant overlooking La Plaza de los Ponchos and had a two hour conversation with a thirty-year-old woman from Switzerland. She quit her job to travel, has been exploring South America since October, and just extended her return ticket until this next October. She’s never been to Norway or Sweden.

Raquel, Julio, and I went out Friday night and met up with Julio’s Colombian friend and his two compañeros. We danced most of the night and the Colombians continued the music with their maraca, guitar, and drum as we danced back to the house.

Woke up on Saturday and decided the best way to cure our headaches was to go to a restaurant that overlooked the market square, and have mexican food, coffee, and cerveza. We wandered around the market afterwards and then went back to the house. After my nap, Raquel and I took the bus home to Quito.

It was my host sister’s b-day on Saturday (18- which is the legal age here) and the restuarant was set up as a discoteca. White covers over the chairs set along the walls, balloons, tables of snack food, beautiful chocolate cake, chocolate fountain with fruit, live DJ, funky lights, and confetti… oh, and a bartender. They arrived in a chiva (an open-sided party bus that takes a tour of the city while encouraging dancing, drinking, and cheering). My mom danced up to me, gave me a huge hug, and told me that they played drinking games on the chiva (she had a plastic cup on a cotton string around her neck). There were about forty people in attendance (some arriving, the relatives leaving after a while). One joven made it her objective to teach my friend Becca to dance… it didn’t work all that well. Many couples (sixteen to eighteen-year olds) were dancing quite closely and taking periodic breaks to make out in the small plaza in front of the restaurant; my parents would simply point, smile, and occasionally make a tour of the dance floor to monitor the goings-on. Especially in the context of dancing, signs of affection by body contact are widely accepted in this culture (it still takes me by surprise when I see couples unabashedly making out at bus stops or in the mall).

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Updates: A group of people and I are going to the beach town Atacames for Carnival- maybe I’ll finally get some color from this Ecuadorian sun. Also, I’m going to Colombia for spring break- Cartagena first, Medellín second.

I have a list of “topics to reflect on” and hope to elaborate on cultural themes instead of just the details of my travels here in following posts. It’s difficult to keep track of everything when it seems that all I do/see/hear is new.

I had my first case of homesickness today- I thought I was going to be able to avoid it completely. I got most of it out of my system. Thank Pachamama for skype and friends who are always online : )  At the same time that my heart hurts for not having seen my family, friends, and roommates in six weeks, I feel that four months in another culture/place/country is no time at all to understand it. There’s still so many places I want to travel, so many people to meet, so much to discover, and I’ve already been here for a month and a half. The idea, first, of leaving Ecuador, and second, of staying in the states for an entire summer and academic year once I return seems impossible.

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