I love travel and becoming an expat was one of the best decisions I think I have ever made for myself. Both are wonderful experiences that change the mind and outlook on life a lot. Travel helps broaden horizons and shows you how other people live. As an expat you not only see how other people live, but you live that way too. And yet sometimes it just sucks.
Sometimes nothing seems to go right and it seems like the society and culture is crushing. Sometimes I feel like breaking down and crying. Sometimes I wish I was not here. Although often wonderful, living as an expat somewhere, especially in a different language, does indeed suck.
Not a Pity Party
I am not writing this as a rant or searching for pity. I know I live a great life. I definitely choose to live here and really wouldn’t have it any other way. It is that sometimes I have a few days where everything gets to me, and I want to share that frustration to show that living as an expat is work. Life can be challenging anyway with a few bad days, but add another culture that takes energy to live in and the overwhelming factor can be high. Maybe others can see this and know that it is ok to be frustrated sometimes and it is normal to have bad days.
This week was a great example. Ali and I spent the past few weeks in Turkey and Italy. We had a great time, though it was tiring. Especially the trip home on Monday was pretty trying for me. In total six trains and a flight encompassing nearly 13 hours home. (We could have been better on the train, but whatever.) The flight was fairly smooth and yet I had a panic reaction. I’m fine, but exhausted. I still had to work on Tuesday, so no rest for me. By the end of the week everything seemed to be against us and it just felt overwhelming. Even for me with my years of experience here.
When Energy Runs Out
Living in another culture from that familiar one that you grew up with is energy intensive, especially at the beginning. You offer the brain no comfortable routine to fall into and yet change everything. Eventually you learn a pattern in your new home and things get easier. You build a home to take refuge in and perhaps a job or some friend to hang out with that all make it feel more like home. “Home” being that effortless state of being.
Yet that culture that takes energy is still out there. Especially when I am tired I definitely get annoyed at the Germans around me far easier. I’m sure this sort of annoyance at life happened in the US as well, but here it seems that the points that come through the most are cultural ones. It leads me to being annoyed at them in a way that I am normally not.
Missing Cheddar Cheese
Germany has pretty good food. The concept of freshness and eating local products is strong, especially around here in Freiburg. That means the veggies and meats are usually local and high quality. The flip side is that the selection of things that come from far away is lean to say the least.
After a long week of poor rest and readjusting to the routine, we just wanted to make our favorite “home-like” meal of Fajitas. We went to the store looking to buy cheddar cheese. Nope, they were out. Nothing even similar showed up in the case, only all kinds of things only labeled by the valley in the alps it was made in. Our tired brains had retired to American mode and we couldn’t recognize anything.
Normally we like the block to shred for the tex-mex-y goodness. Though they had nothing in the case we thought maybe slices down in the case. Again no, at this point the annoyance was getting going. “Why can’t I just find normal cheese?” the brain screams inside. “What is with all of these cheeses we don’t understand?” We know the cheese here is odd and have known it for a while, but in this state of mind the detail becomes so much worse. It somehow gets blown up into a symbol of annoyance for the culture.
I kind of just wanted to cry. “I just want a nice quiet evening with normal food and not have anything to do with Germany,” I was thinking. Was I really losing it over cheese?
The cheese thing was a “last straw,” not a reason in itself. The half annoyances of the week, the feelings coming down off of a vacation high and readjusting to a routine without a lot of rest all rolled up and got sparked off by the “one thing” that felt familiar that I was being denied. In the end with the cheese, we were disappointed, but it wasn’t tragic. They will restock the block of cheddar and we will buy more next week. We sat together watching TV and it was a good night anyway.
This Too Shall Pass
Most of these feelings are transient. Things get overwhelming and I just want to cry, but I don’t. I play video games or watch American TV with some popcorn and try to get some sleep. Things will look better in the morning.
This sort of frustration is normal. The brain gets overwhelmed and can’t handle it anymore every so often. It is to be expected when you ask it to rebuild an entire lifetime of cultural knowledge. The key is to be patient with yourself and with others, especially the host locals. They have no clue what you are going through.
Sometimes it DOES suck, but it will be awesome again soon too. Just try to be patient.
It is never about just the cheese.