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.
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.
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.
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: