Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How to Fight Nostalgia {as an Expat}

Free concerts in ancient arenas at sunset? What more should you need to feel content abroad?! Summer 2007.

My grandparents' pool in southern France. Woe is me. Summer 2007.

Such grand architecture should guarantee happiness, no?
Paris, June 2009.

As I documented on the blog a few weeks ago, I was recently feeling extremely nostalgic. Reading blog post after blog post raving about summer, showcasing carefree pictures with friends and family... I just felt empty and envious. I like to think everyone falls victim to internet-envy when bombarded with picture perfect imagery via social media, especially when those feelings were already lying dormant.

I've been thinking more positively lately, especially after the DKR Top Ten and a renewed commitment to "living it up," but I am still missing out on a much-needed dose of Americana and reunions with friends and family. Especially as... last week was the Fourth of July! How fitting :(

Luckily, I normally take homesickness in stride, largely because I've been away from someone (my mom... my dad... my grandparents) for pretty much my whole life. I was one of those freak kids who enjoyed change ;) That being said, no one escapes bouts of overwhelming nostalgia and homesickness completely, especially as an expat.

One of the most surprising things is how nostalgic or homesick you can feel in amazing places/situations, which can also breed guilt and self-loathing. I remember my mom telling me how she felt so isolated in Paris when I was a newborn, far from her family and support system. She would push my stroller to the park in the afternoons and watch a crazy man circle the perimeter for hours upon hours, feeling sad and lonely in that quaint Parisian park.

My most challenging times living abroad include: interning in France and living with my grandparents in a small village with no meaningful friendships (summer 2007), moving to cold, rainy Paris after studying in Senegal (winter/spring 2009), and a tough beginning to my life in Dakar after graduation. Luckily things took a turn for the better a couple of months into 2011 (coincidentally when I met C. ;).

It eventually gets better. But sometimes you aren't in a place long enough to see the improvement. How to speed up the process?

1. Compile a bucket list... and start crossing things off ASAP! Seek out the invigorating. For me, travel and new cultural experiences get my adrenaline pumping. I also love planning for things and having something to look forward to! Watch the progress unfold. Pat yourself on the back. Document in pictures. Hold yourself accountable. Blog about it ;)

2. Start a project. What have I done historically? Well, in 2009 I spent 100 euros at a schmancy craft shop in Paris to make collage picture frames. Which I then filled with pictures from Senegal. Not exactly the best remedy ;) A few years later I turned to designing endless outfits to be made by local tailors in Dakar. (I scanned the fabrics, made a complex Google doc, drew sketches. It was my designer phase, haha.) And then I started sewing Christmas ornaments with African fabric. And making collage art with African fabric. I've let my crafty side go with my new job... note to self....

3. Get. off. the. couch. I know not everyone struggles with this, but when I start slipping into a rut, I fall victim to Netflix. Or some T.V. show marathon. Sure, it can be welcomingly mind-numbing. And I really love T.V. so I do allow myself this pleasure. But within reason. Sidenote: One Christmas vacation in college I was gifted the entire series of Six Feet Under and my mom was convinced I was depressed because I'd stay up until 3 or 4am watching episodes and sleep late into the day. Don't let depressing T.V. shows contribute to your rut!

4. Make a list of things for which you are thankful. And refer to it as often as necessary. Like the Dakar Top Ten. There are so many reasons to be thankful for the opportunity to live here at this time in my life. I can't let myself lose perspective!

5. Branch out. Make new friends.  Even if its hard and its awkward and you want to give in to the cocoon of your apartment or bedroom or whatever. Even if you already have a great network of friends, it can be so refreshing to branch out when you're feeling down or lonely. You might meet someone who could be a great companion for a favorite hobby or expose you to a completely new passion. You never know!

In fall 2010, I was dealing with some intense loneliness and personal challenges, and one day I simply invited myself to a coworker's get together. I'd admired her sense of style from a distance {stalker much?!}, but we had never talked or crossed paths at work. One day I brazenly asked if I could join an event, which is totally out of character for me. I put myself out there a few more times, and we became fast friends and eventually roommates! And I made a lot of other friends through my newfound friendsicle. Clever little trick :)

6. Own your feelings, but fight the urge to dwell on whatever it is your missing. While it is useless and maybe even more harmful to completely ignore how you feel, don't let it stop you from living in the moment. I think everyone is guilty of this at some point in their life. But I've always kicked myself after the fact, thinking "I was so lucky to be there {Paris} and I wasted my time moping?! WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME?!" Like the night I stayed in to craft alone rather than meet up with new French friends at a bar. WhatwasIthinking?! It can be difficult to maintain perspective in the moment, especially if you are going through challenging life experiences. But ultimately, you have to choose happiness, to whatever degree is possible.

I leave you with an inspirational quote. Because its #selfhelpday on Six Bougies ;)

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”

― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Any other suggestions for fighting homesickness?! Feel free to chime in!

P.S. Belinda over at Found Love, Now What... made a vlog on the same topic for this month's Expat Diaries. Great minds think alike ;)
P.P.S. The internet has been down and I've been swamped with work... hence the delay in posting and the noted absence this week. I will be back soon, with exciting news no less :)
And a new blog design, at long last!

1 comment:

  1. I hear you. I fell in a hole when back then my friend moved back to Germany. But I got out. As you said, getting off the couch, enjoying what's there, call someone.. Now, I feel nostalgic for Seattle..


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