The best thing about living abroad is…that you are not living in your own country. Weather though is always a close second. No one ever really wants to hear about the struggles that come with packing your bags and moving away to a totally different country and culture. Two words: culture shock.
It is near impossible to explain culture shock to someone who has not lived abroad (especially moved abroad alone). When i have tried to do it in the past people have assumed that i don’t like the culture of that particular country… that is not it. Unless you go for a very short period of time as a tourist or you drink non stop, fly home every week or have a strong support system at your destination, you will be affected by culture shock in some capacity. However, culture shock is not a great name for what you will experience. For me personally, culture shock comprises the whole process of adapting to the new country and way of living. In the beginning you are so excited to be away from your everyday life, everything is so exhilarating and different. It is like you get to go on holiday but also have the knowledge that you never have to make the dreary way back home.
This excitement can last for a while but sooner or later real life and routine will hit. Suddenly, you start noticing the negative things or things that you just can’t wrap your head around and that people at home would do way more efficiently and in a “normal” way. Soon you will need to buy a blanket or find the local gym, but for the life of you there are no malls and the locals just ignore you after you use your few words of their language that you oh so proudly practiced the night before. At some point, every little thing can drive you nuts and you develop something i call hyper-emotionalism. That means that you can go from content to ready to cry after a single comment by some random person.
Also, no one tells you that while everything is new and exciting it is also incredibly tiring. Going to the post office becomes a hurdle run that can knock you out for a good 10 hours. Reading the person’s body language and gestures that widely differ from yours, constantly trying to recognize every word that is being said and reply immediately as accurately as possible, otherwise you run the chance that the person opposite you might get annoyed and shut down. And believe me, you don’t want that! Especially in the first few months after moving abroad alone you depend so much on other people’s moods to assist you. Imagine yourself being a helpless child rediscovering everything for the first time, you need to be the one taking all the necessary steps but the others around you will probably not help you since they did not choose a difficult life and are therefore not keen on trying to solve the misunderstandings that will inevitably come up when dealing with a newcomer.
No matter how tired you are, each day you need to be the one smiling and trying harder than the locals around you cause you are on their turf, you are a guest in their country. If you don’t want to be alone for the whole time you are there, you need to go and introduce yourself and shake hands first and take up every invitation you get, doesn’t matter if it is your kind of crowd or not. The process doesn’t just include you starting over, it is also you trying to become part of the local community and fighting to be included can be annoying especially since being afraid to embarrass oneself is normal. Fun fact, when you are abroad, especially in the beginning you will pretty much do it everyday. The best thing is not to take it too hard and just laugh it off but if you are really sensitive to begin with than every embarrassment and laugh at your cost from others can feel like a personal attack.
I have been in BG now for 7 weeks and this week has not been the best, i couldn’t even explain why. However the difference between me at 18 crying my eyes out in Greece and me at 23 being a bit bummed out in Bulgaria is huge. I consciously know what is happening, i know that it is a normal reaction of my body, mind and soul to the new location, environment, people, culture, food, attitudes and customs, and it is not the end of the world. Btw you know you have beaten culture shock when you see pictures from Christmas or your best friend’s birthday party and you don’t tear up anymore. Overall, i admit that right now i sleep more than usual, i have to fight to get myself out of bed and while i want to explore the area i also am scared of it and therefore the safety of my four walls is currently very tempting. My brain and heart are fighting to create stability and peace around me again and that takes time. I just have to just stay positive, accept and respect it.