Settling in

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Dreadfully sorry that I haven’t updated the blog, since my last sad panda posting.  You are probably all out there thinking that I’m sitting around, clutching my American flag, rushing to McDonalds every chance I get, and slowly sobbing myself to sleep while browsing the photobook my sister made for me before I left.  Well, I am thrilled to announce that after one particularly low weekend, everything has changed.

I don’t know if it was simply admitting that I needed help, or just time working its magic, but I’ve found myself newly fascinated by this place, excited to explore, and ready to establish friendships with the expats in my community.  I’ve enjoyed movie nights with friends, backyard BBQs, bowling, house parties, sitting at cafes with a Coke, large amounts of window shopping at the expensive malls here, stocking up on groceries at the outdoor market, and a trip to the casino to witness an expat poker night.  (Oh and obviously, WORK!)  I’ve accepted every invitation that has come my way, which is both exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.  I have been keeping myself really busy, which is my favorite thing.  Overall let’s just say I’m feeling the love for Sarajevo once again, and I have my new friends here to thank for that.

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Enough of that mushy stuff, let’s talk about the fact that I have most of my STUFF now!  So I’ve been living without my things since early February, living in hotels, furnished corporate apartments, and finally a large apartment in Sarajevo with a loaner welcome kit to get me by until my stuff arrives.  I’ve had access to about half of my clothes and shoes, my coffee maker, my good towels, and a few framed pictures that accompanied me from place to place.  I know it seems silly to miss material possessions that much, but I really, truly did miss my belongings!  My movie collection, framed pics from my travels, my favorite omelet pan, photo albums, and I think most of all: MY BEDDING.

So in the FS you get a couple different shipments, the first one you should receive is your UAB – unaccompanied air baggage.  Typically this is the first box you receive after arrival, and as a single I got 250 pounds.  I did just a HORRIBLE job packing up my UAB, completely miscalculated what I could and couldn’t buy here, and I’ll know better for next time.  The next shipment is your HHE – household effects, basically up to 7,000lbs of your personal belongings.  (Gotta love the government and their acronyms, amiright?)  Typically this can take anywhere from a couple weeks to several months to arrive, but luckily the staff here is ON POINT and are so insanely efficient that I was able to get my stuff to Sarajevo and cleared through customs within 3 weeks of arrival.  I’m blown away by the staff here and their ability to get. stuff. done.

So the movers showed up yesterday morning (around 6:30am), brought all the boxes upstairs (through the elevator, it is incredible how much easier life is with a damn elevator), unpacked, then took the packing materials away with them when they left.  They each got a hefty tip from me, I was blown away by their professionalism and efficiency.  So here I am, in my apartment, with all my stuff, and I’m suddenly wondering why I felt the need to bring my high school dance trophies with me.  Seemed like a valid decision at the time.

pivot

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So my goal for the weekend is to get settled, this time not in an emotional sense, but a physical one.  Time to figure out how to fill a china cabinet, when you in fact, own zero pieces of china.  I’ve also got some wrestling to do with four chair slipcovers I purchased through Amazon, these things are enormous and look crazy sloppy, so I’ve got some tucking and pinning to do in order to get the look I’m going for.  Time for cleaning, and sorting, and picture frame placement.  Excited to have some familiarity back in my life, so if you’ll excuse me it’s time for a Friends marathon while I make this place look like my own 🙂

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Culture Shock

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So I went back and forth on writing this post, because it’s never fun to expose a low point in your life, a moment of self-doubt and worry.  But I suppose this is likely a pretty crucial part of my expat experience, why not address it and share it with the people I miss the most?

So my first 10ish days here, I was on cloud nine.  I was so excited to see everything, experience the culture, learn Bosnian, buy all of the things, and completely immerse myself into everything that Sarajevo had to offer.  I would listen to nearby conversations and delight in being able to pick out a word here and there, and in general I was in awe of everything.

Late last week, something switched.  Work was great and busy and exciting, but the minute I got home from work, I couldn’t seem to bring myself to leave the apartment, except for a quick trip to the grocery store.  Whenever I was out walking around, the incessant Bosnian being spoken around me suddenly started to grate on me, and suddenly I was worried that everyone was talking about me and pointing how ridiculous I was.  I went to the big malls here to immerse myself in commercialism (a true Western tradition), and even then was frustrated with European sizing, and the chaos of waiting for a fitting room.

I got home yesterday, and quite frankly kind of lost it.  I started doubting this job, my ability to live here alone, started feeling deeply sorry for myself, and got incredibly homesick.

Sad panda

Sad panda

I spoke with a friend of mine who has been living abroad for years, and he told me this was normal…this was culture shock.

So like any good Gen-Y person might do, I Googled it.  And wouldn’t you know it, I found article after article describing the exact things I was experiencing, describing the stages of culture shock.  I will summarize the ones I found from a website called “Twenty-something Travel” because I can still claim that status for a few months, there are variations in the name but the themes are all the same:

  • Honemoon Stage:  Excitement, intrigue, everything is new and different and everything is awesome.  I was here for about 10 days.
  • Frustration/Rage Stage: Everything is stressful, you begin to realize that every action you take is a little bit harder than it was back home.  You’re afraid of offending people, afraid of making a fool of yourself.  You miss your family, your friends, familiar food, your country.  Your language.  **I am here, and I wish that the honeymoon stage had lasted a little longer**
  • Understanding Stage: Basically, being able to laugh at yourself.  Accepting your terrible language skills but trying anyway.  Allowing yourself to go to an unfamiliar restaurant and try something you’ve never heard of (what’s the worst that could happen?), realizing that yes, everything is different, but its no longer a scary thought.
  • Acclimation Stage:  Acceptance, plain and simple.  The most rewarding stage to be in, and my goal is to spend as much time in this stage as possible.

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So, even knowing that what I’m feeling is normal has helped, as cheesy as it sounds.  I had assumed that because this was a European city with good running water  and wifi and plentiful groceries and a low amount of danger, that I would be able to avoid the frustration of culture shock, but it appears I’m no exception to the rule.  I plan to buckle down, get over myself and put myself out there, knowing that shutting myself in my apartment with Netflix is only going to make things harder in the long run.

My plan is to start small, and set simple goals.  Today I walk around with my good camera and take pictures.  And I’ll get ice cream.  Maybe I’ll go see a big summer blockbuster at the nearby theater.  Next weekend I’ll make plans to hang with some people from the Embassy and play, maybe go to some restaurants and bars.  And little by little, I know that my anxiety and homesickness will pass, and I’ll find myself fascinated and entertained by my life in Sarajevo once again.  All I have to do is keep trying.

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I didn’t write this to get anyone to feel sorry for me, really I didn’t.  Mostly I just want to let you all know that my life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows and perfect travel experiences and cool food and instagramed sunsets.  I struggle on a daily basis, and have to continue working to make this whole thing worthwhile.   I leave with you with my new mantra:

finish each day