As I write this, I am dazed with jet lag. In this haze, the thoughts I had on the airplane for this blog post are distant and somewhat difficult to grasp. The moment we arrived back in Europe, it was as if the trip had never happened. Three weeks of the Great Northwest, soaking in all the local culture, enjoying family and friends and giant parking spaces, all just a dream. I feel homesick for it already.
I love going home, and I love coming back to my home in Germany. One of the strange things that happens when you live in a different culture is that you have selective memory about your home culture. While I am here, I notice all the things that are substandard compared to my home culture; the tight parking spaces, the lack of convenience, the gruff public face so many locals prefer to wear. And in this selective memory, I glorify my home culture for everything it does well, and I miss those things. I also miss things like the ocean, the wilderness, and mostly my family. I forget things that are substandard there, the things that Germany does better. And the moment I get off the plane back home, I start missing all those wonderful German things: low food prices, public transport, bread with substance, the 1 and 2 Euro coins.
When you arrive in a new country, you go through phases of culture shock and homesickness over the first year as you adjust to a new culture. The first few weeks are euphoric as you discover your new surroundings, then you hit a bit of a wall as you long for familiar grocery stores, products, banking experiences, and start to miss your friends and family. This back-and-forth continues as you adjust to the new culture and adapt to new routines. Somewhere around 3 months, you are desperate to leave and just go home, and if you stick it out, around 6 months you really start to enjoy life in the new culture, having settled into routines and started new friendships.
What I continue to learn is that this cycle continues – so far, at least 11 years – as far as my experience stretches at this point! I know now that I tend to get homesick during February and August, for instance, because the weather in Germany doesn’t match my expectations from the Northwest – even after 11 years, I haven’t adapted in these months. Homesickness hits me at other, usually unexpected, times too.
The good news is that I now have a number of strategies for getting myself out of that funk. One of them is to take a trip to a part of Germany that I love, such as Tübingen or Freiburg or the Allgäu. Another is to take public transport to the city center and wander around, stopping at a cafe and reflecting on the fact that I can take “vacation” in the middle of Europe whenever I want.
If you’re reading this having recently arrived in Germany and are currently struggling to adjust, be assured that this is just a phase, a completely normal (and perhaps necessary) part of moving to a new country. And be warned that it’s a cycle and will return, although easier to deal with after the first six months or so. Find some things you love to do here and treat yourself to some of the great things about German culture. And of course, remember that home isn’t perfect either … just different.
What are some of your favorite things about life in Germany? How do you deal with homesickness? Feel free to post a comment with your ideas!