As a creative writer, I do all I can to avoid numbers. Frankly, they scare me and I’ve developed a strong dislike of quantifying things.
There are, of course, exceptions to this strange rule. Every Saturday, you will find me parked in the cleaning supply isle at the grocery store, totaling the prices I have scrawled on my shopping list in order to triple check I am meeting my 30 euro budget.
And now, I find myself taking great comfort in one of those “five stages of adjustment” lists constantly circulated on the internet.
The five stages of adjusting to a new country are as follows: the honeymoon period, the stage of culture shock, the stage of actual adjustment, the isolation period, and the stage of acceptance and integration.
As much as I would love to say that I am one of those truly carefree and brazen travelers that does not prescribe to lists, the above describes my current situation to a tee.
When I first moved to Bratislava, I was infatuated with the newness of it all. I was living on my own in a foreign European capital. Cool! I was suddenly surrounded by Milka chocolate and some damn good coffee. Doubly cool!
In a few weeks, I nestled into a comforting routine and finally took the rose-colored glasses off. The things that made Bratislava awesome did not disappear from view but I started to notice the very palpable differences between Slovak and American culture. Smiling at strangers on the street is a strange habit here. Maple syrup is a foreign term. And homophobia and islamphobia is a serious problem (of course, it is a problem in the US as well).
I jumped to the actual adjustment stage quite quickly. I survived registration at the Alien’s Police (official name of the foreigner’s police), joined an international church, learned how to work the Slovak keyboard, found a regular cafe where I order coffee in Slovak, and mastered the public transport system. Practically a local!
And then a few days ago, the most horrific, confusing, and strangest thing happened to me. I turned the Christmas tree lights on (keeping that thing up all year round), sat on the edge of my sofa bed, and cried.
I hate crying and I hate admitting I’m homesick. I hate it more than I hate numbers. And I hate having a list of things I hate.
Stage four, the isolation period, is not a fun stage but it’s an important part of adjusting completely to living abroad. Admitting homesickness or loneliness is not admitting defeat.
I’m on the brink of stage five but right now, I’m still adjusting to life in Slovakia. I still dream I’m in New Hampshire with my faithful golden retriever Jenny at the foot of my bed. I still hope that just before my alarm clock goes off, the wet snout of my brother’s dog will tickle my nose. I still have an irresistible craving for American pancakes with American syrup and American bacon on the side.
But today, while I ran through a beautiful park I just discovered, I realized there is no rule that says you can’t experience the honeymoon stage again and again. The isolation will not last. The need to explore and discover and fumble around in a foreign place will not dissipate. The stages of life and adjustment find the spotlight simultaneously. Isolation and shock are just small parts of the bigger puzzle. The grand and horrific and wonderful and beautifully enigmatic puzzle of living abroad.
So I will let myself cry and let myself dream of home but I will never let myself forget that I’m carving out a new life for myself in a European capital surrounded by Milka chocolate and scrumptious coffee and that is beyond cool!
Step by Step,