Nov 25, 2006

Experiment Update

So I mentioned earlier that I want to track the effects of culture shock (handily illustrated-along with reverse culture shock- on the accompanying graph) on myself. According to the conventional wisdom, I should be in the "honeymoon" or "euphoria" period right now. I don't know if I am or not. To be honest, I'm kind of wondering if I'm too negative-minded to experience something like euphoria or a honeymoon period. Well, that's probably not true, but I don't think that I've experienced anything that could be called euphoria yet.
I'm having a good time here, of course, and am obviously taking active enjoyment of the experience, but my time here and my enjoyment thereof is generally tempered by a nagging thought at the back of my head that perpetually reminds me that I don't really belong here, that I'm taking a sojourn that I'll return from. The journey may be the destination, but the journey has an ending as well. This is all brought to mind, of course, by the practical considerations of not knowing the language, culture and general "feel" of where I am. So, I'm constantly giving myself these mental caveats when I have fun- that everything will always be at arm's legnth.
Make no mistake, I'm not trying to be cynical or give the impression that I'm having a bad time, but I don't think that at any point my enjoyment will overtake my reason.
On the other hand, though, I'm constantly recognizing that this whole venture is something singular. This is something that I'll probably talk to people about the rest of my life, as in "well, when I lived in Japan..." Thinking about that still gives me a nice little fuzzy feeling, so maybe that's all the honeymoon or euphoria that I'll be feeling.
I'm a little worried that I'm going to crash into homesickness rather hard. There have been a few moments where I've really, really missed home, and while they tend not to be overly strong, I'm worried about full-on incapacitating emo loneliness in the future. You know, the kind where you turn up the Joy Division really loudly and messily write "I AM SO ALONE!" in your own blood on what used to be a clean white wall. In other words, I have anxiety about the possibility that I'll have anxiety in the future. How dumb is that?
For the most part, things have seemed more or less normal. Not euphoria, not honeymoon, but good. Let's hope that persists.


Anonymous said...

Worrying about homesickness is kind of like being at the beach and worrying about a tsunami hitting. It might come. It might not. It makes you forget about the beautiful beach. You cannot really prep yourself in the weeks before it hits. Just be sure you know what to do when you see the water rushing out to sea. Call your friends. I guess you could get skype as a life preserver. :)

Anonymous said...

Joe, you sound so Lutheran.

Sydney said...

Maybe you're a reverse manic-depressive. Instead of insane highs and lows that cycle and leave you drained, you're just supernaturally even. Maybe when most people experience "euphoria," you're like, "wow, neat." And when other people are like, "Oh my God, I'm going to die if I don't go home RIGHT NOW!!!", you'll be like, "Yeah, I kinda miss home."

Pete didn't follow any of those curves either. He says that it was different because I was around, and growing up in Europe, things looked more familiar. Plus, he traveled to France every three to five weeks, which broke things up quite nicely. I, on the other hand, sobbed like baby the first night I was alone in Lyon - and I had lived in France before! It wasn't even a new experience! The only time I got really homesick was at some point right after I moved in with my scary French roommate. It was freezing cold, November, windy as hell, I was starving - the kind of hungry where your hands shake too much to cook - and couldn't get my can of chili (or the French equivilant thereof) open because my roommate only had an army can-opener, which I didn't know how to use. I remember banging the can against the edge of the counter, and pleading with it through my tears, "But I'm so hungry! Why won't you open??" I eventually figured out the can opener, and when I was no longer starving, I found myself thinking - in a "poor me" moment - "This wouldn't have happened at home." And I was really, really homesick all night. The next day I went out and bought a regular can opener and that solved that problem.

What was really strange was how 9/11 effected people in my program. Some of them were suddenly overwhelmed with homesickness because of the anxiety, fear and grief caused by that event. Others of us were perhaps galvenized as ex-pats and actually felt less homesick. "Home" had fundamentally changed. The family and friends we talked to described things that were wholly incomprehensible: jet fighters being scrambled over cities; four-hour lines through security at airports; impromptu memorials springing up for the friend or relation of a neighbor or coworker who happened to live, work or simply be traveling over New York that day. Those of us that felt more homesick hated that we weren't experiencing those things and wanted to be home to share the experience with their loved ones. I, for one, felt relieved, safe. I mean, who attacks France any more? I had one panicky hour where I couldn't get a hold of my Dad, and I knew that he had been in Chicago and had been planning to head to New York, but I didn't know when. But he called - finally, it seemed to me - and then I just found it hard to believe that such a thing could happen in the first place. To this day, I feel weirdly removed from those events, like I do from events that happened when I was really little and too young to understand.

I kept thinking that it was "going to hit me," that I just wasn't processing it well enough. I felt the same way about the whole "France" experience - like I'd wake up one day and I'd suddenly be in a musical: "My God, I'm in France! / This sitting to shower / because my roommate won't by a curtain / is suddenly no longer irritating / - it's cute! / I'm going to buy some pain au chocolate / and drink some cafe au lait / and if you haven't guessed by now / France is really more than okay!!"

That never happened. Because it was just the place that I lived. It was filled with normal, day-to-day people, doing day-to-day things, and living normal lives. You might just be more of a world citizen than you thought. Man, this is a huge comment. Sorry! I'll end now. [STOP]