We’ve all been warned about the changes that will happen when moving to a foreign land. You will meet new friends, learn new languages, and try different foods; you know, all those stuff your expatriate friends and relatives keep telling you. But along the way, there will be these tiny occurrences that will barrel your way and sucker punch you into mild depression and a progressing case of “I want to go home.”
We are here to talk about those life-changing experiences which everybody think are too trivial to talk about.
When moving to another country, you will only feel two emotions: excitement and fear. And you will entertain and juggle these two while on your six-hour plane trip (“I can finally visit the Forbidden Palace and order authentic Chinese foo… wait, I don’t know Chinese!.”). But upon setting your foot on the new land up to your first three months living there, the third (and evil) sibling of these emotions will rear its ugly head: hate.
And no, you don’t hate because you are far away from home and you are stuck in this alien life for good or other huge changes you’re having. You feel irritated and exasperated because of the small inconveniences that comes to you on a non-stop, daily basis. Whether it’s the fact that they serve pineapple and beetroot on your burger; or most of the restaurants won’t accept credit cards, or hey, is that milk on sealed plastic bag? Really, guys? It never ends. And it piles up.
And you can’t do anything to change that. Back home, you just take a deep breath , walk away, and find an alternative. In your new country, it’s the universal rule. And you have to deal with it.
People will play this "moving abroad" thing down, so we will give an analogy to illustrate what it really feels like: Your homeland is like your bedroom. It’s where everything is familiar and comfortable. Moving abroad is like going to your new job or your new school where everybody doesn’t know you and is not really enthusiastic on helping you feel at home.
Consider having this feeling on a daily basis. You will learn to think on your feet, get creative, and improvise. Your senses are constantly sharp (“What is the Serbian-speaking guy trying to tell me? Oh, my chair’ is stabbing his toes!”), and surprises, whether good or bad, are staples of everyday life (“What do you mean you didn’t save our payroll before the system crashed?”).
Yes, there’s always adrenaline rush. Routine becomes an alien concept. Waking up means dealing again with a dozen of different emotions all at the same time. And here’s the catch: it is addictive.
Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once said “Adversity is what brings people together.” We don’t know much about him, but we are pretty sure he hasn’t lived abroad, otherwise that quote would look different. When you are in a completely unfamiliar territory, your compatibility with a fellow countrymen increases by 300% even if they are complete strangers. It doesn’t matter how huge your differences are i.e. they are weird, your age gap is big, your industry is unrelated, they love DC and you worship Marvel, etc, you will be huge BFFs, at least for the time being.
You will exchange stories from back at home, share your discontent about your adaptive country, talk about life, work, and dreams comfortably like you have known each other since kindergarten years whereas you only exchanged glances three minutes ago.
The surge of endorphins is no illusion. You are away from home, confused, exhausted, and ready to spiral down to depression with a slight push. Seeing someone who thinks, feels, and perceives the same way as you do on a cultural level is what your psyche is aching for to maintain sanity. You need that newfound countryman in your life. Thus the sudden establishment of connection, comfortability, and compatibility.
That cricket-induced (the sports variety) mass hysteria in your country that you can’t even understand? You won’t see that in the US. You only occasionally dig McDonald’s fried chicken? Good luck seeing that in Japan. You always tip huge to show your gratitude? No need for that in Australia (OK, you will probably enjoy that even more).
The thing is, the almost negligible details that completes the intimate and convenient picture of home will be missing in your new country. This provides the feeling of unfamiliarity, or worse, inconveniences that lead to our item number one. You might not be into cricket, but the mania that follows it disrupts what could be a routine and boring day back home. In the United States, you have to find other disruptions. The same goes with craving for fried chicken in Japan. You can find that in KFC stores three city blocks away (Japan isn’t really big in fast food). It suddenly gives rise to inconvenience. You might not care about something back home, but you actually need it to go on with your day.
If the above case is bad, consider if the thing you miss is something you really, really love. And most of the time, nostalgia hits you on the most inconvenient time and place. Just a sight or smell of a favorite food or a sample tune of favorite song will flood you with memories of family and friends back home.
Technological connectivity and social media does not make it easier either. Yes, it will allow you to follow on what’s happening back home, bringing you closer to them, but it also shows how far and inaccessible you are. “We are having a Christmas feast here in the Philippines. How’s Hanukkah over there?”
Nostalgia is bittersweet. Either you love it or you hate. You deal with it for good. It will be a part of you once you set your foot outside the land. And yes, even when you come back. It’s because…
That’s right. Given that you have lived abroad for a considerable amount of time, things will go full circle. You have become comfortable with you adoptive country that you become a foreigner on your homeland. Suddenly, everybody is driving on the right side again (“I need to return to the UK!”), the chopsticks are wooden again (“Korea, take me back!”), you frown on splitting the bill (“Thanks for institutionalizing me, France.”), and you are carrying a bunch of dinars on a dollar-using country. The list goes on.
And every time you see a native of your expatriation country, you feel the urge to spend half of the day with them because working abroad made you confusing.
But these are not weird after all. They are all signs of reverse culture shock (yes, there is such a thing). The feeling of distress experienced upon re-entry to your country. We human beings are formed by evolution to adapt to which ever land we are on. The fact that you are experiencing shock means you have accustomed quite well with your expatriation country. So celebrate and enjoy that smoked yogurt soft served ice cream, because welcome back to Australia!