Sunday evenings are just made for swaddling up in a cocoon of blankets and having some high quality doing-nothing-relaxation time, or for me at least that’s how I’ve spent the past hour. Chilling in my blanket roll, contemplating the day I’ve had and beginning to think ahead to the new week, I take a glance out my ground-floor window into the forest just to the side of my view and have a moment where I re-remember that I’m actually quite far from home. Living this close to forests filled with real life wild deer is certainly not an everyday thing back in England and for sure it never gets old to gaze out at the view. Although in this moment of beauty was also a sad pang, was it just the realisation of how far I am? Was this the phenomenon of homesickness finally kicking in? Or was I just still feeling slightly sorry after a long Saturday night?
Whatever the feeling was, I thought it would be interesting to follow it and write a post on a topic a little more introspective. I remembered a student health care leaflet I had in my bag with an interesting text inside on the transition to a new culture as an exchange student, it was cool in that it resonated in many ways even as a full-time international student; it talked of this ‘W-shape’ curve in the effects of mood as you go through the phases of cultural adaptation.
Having been born in Sweden and with some family I’ve visited before in other cities, whilst I knew I’d still have some adapting to do, I didn’t think I would be affected so much as I was familiar with the culture. However now I come to think of it, this W-shape curve is not entirely wrong. Although you’re busy with school work and constantly around a buzz of going to see and do fun things, there are in fact times of dips in the curve. But it’s not always so noticeable because everything is so hectic in the beginning anyway with your brain on hyper-alert by all the new things. It’s more those days where all you crave is mother’s cooking and to be around the home unit with all its comforts; I guess I’d always imagined homesickness as some horrific, depressing thing. In fact it turns out it’s a sort of achey lovey kind of feeling, it makes you realise how much you appreciate people and things back home when you’re so far away from it – especially knowing this is where you’ll be for the next two years.
It’s not so much the mechanics of moving to a new country that’s difficult either, because there’s always an information desk that can help, but it’s more the coming to feeling connected to a place which naturally takes time. You may for example find that being surrounded by so many students from other countries that you adjust the way you say things, as I’ve slowly learnt some jokes and phrases don’t translate over in the same way and often you may just find you’re the only one laughing at your joke (!). Whilst sometimes those pangs of loneliness may come when you realise familiarity in culture and people is no longer around, it’s recognising the gain that ultimately comes from being challenged to think and interact in different ways.
Although some days the last thing you want is a challenge, I’ve definitely felt the W-shape curve does begin to flatten out. I would say it took my first semester to fully say I had my foundations down and was settled. Now the feelings of homesickness become more home-excitement as the weather begins to come in to signal summer and eventually a return home to catch up.