Culture Shock and Homesickness

When I moved to Europe it was like I was completing a piece of me. I moved here with my son to join the new man in my life and create a family. Everything about Holland captured my heart. I enjoyed the history, the culture, the language...riding a bike and learning to be a wife. It took me four or five months to really fall into a stage of homesickness and culture shock. And when I did, it didn't even hit me very hard. I missed my family in America, I become a more patriotic person to my home country, and I treasured those special packages from home with little goodies and treats I missed. But I was also enjoying my new life and fell easily into the role of stay at home om and wife, of a student in language classes.

When we moved to Belgium three years after my big move to Europe, the culture shock and homesickness and pity party began. I think moving to yet another country with another language, another culture within such a short time was just too much. The first year I lived in Belgium was the hardest since my move to Europe. I was overwhelmed by everything, fell into depression, and never left the house unless it was absolutely necessary. I felt miserable, and our situation with Kaeden had accelerated, adding to my discomfort. I called my mom nearly daily in sobs.

Then, after that first year, things started falling into place a bit more. Belgium has never quite given me that easy comfortable feeling of home like I had when moving to Holland. However, the country has grown on me, I have learned to understand the people, and all the little societal rules have fallen into a pattern in my brain. Belgium is home, though it has taken a lot of effort getting it to this point. I have created a few friendships, gotten involved in the village, as well as found a comfort level with the mothers of Jari's friends. Soccer has given me another common activity with members of our community. I know what the different foods are, I can use my bank cards, and have deciphered the medical and insurance systems in place. Yet, even now, I find myself being sucked into the confines of home, having to force myself to open up the windows and head out into the fresh air.

Lately, I have been going through a different kind of feeling, something I can almost describe as a second round of culture shock. This time, it doesn't pertain to the new country, language, and people, but in my relation to all the above mentioned. I am realizing that this is my life. It is no longer a novelty, no longer a new adventure. It is my life, and I sit smack in the middle of it. There is no escape, it isn't a temporary arrangement, and it isn't full of frills like it was when it was new. I have learned the system, I can speak the language, and I can live the life. But now, I am wondering why I made this choice. Why did I throw away a college education and a degree? A job I loved? Why did I give up the freedom of my own vehicle and hundreds of miles of space to drive or walk or camp or run, people-free? Why did I give up my closeness with my family? Why did I give up everything I have ever known and loved to take on this new life?

It has taken me ten years, and when things have finally fallen into 'place' I fall head-first into this new reality. The realization that life just isn't what you expect it to be. Choices you make plan the course of your life and future. I'm feeling resentful towards this life, my husband and my family, the people and language. Some days it feels like I just want to go home...but when I turn around and face the four walls surrounding me, I realize I am home. I chose this course of life. I didn't know at the time just how hard it would be. And never, in a million years, did I expect to be going through this 10 years further. But I am. And now I need to get over it, take in a breath of frsh air, and remind myself of all the reasons I first fell in love with Europe. That will be the first step in finding peace and comfort once again within myself.


Tanya @ TeenAutism said...

I would imagine that it's a very long process, constantly changing. There's so much about life that ebbs and flows, and that's true even for people who aren't living with extraordinary changes, as you have. I hope you're able to find that peace and comfort you so deserve.

Anonymous said...


V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios said...

It was interesting to read this, because from the beginning I knew my expat experience would be temporary. That made it more fulfilling and less fulfilling too.

But the questions you're asking and what you're feeling may be as much a function of your age/stage in life. In my 40s, I have asked many of the same questions. Why did I leave college with a 4.0 GPA and a huge scholarship, get married, and move to a small town in Oklahoma, a thousand miles away from my family? Why did I always put my husband's career ahead of my own? I never gave mine up completely but I never pursued it passionately either. Why? And above all, what's next for me? For us?

Asking those questions, working on answers--sometimes I've been depressed and sometimes I've been at peace. This I know--I would be asking myself hard questions even if I'd made different choices. It's my nature. It follows me into every circumstance and every stage of life.