It seems appropriate to write about home-sickness now since it’s been quite a dominate presence these last few weeks.
And I know it’s not the worst thing in the world and it’s not really going to hurt me and I’m not going to die… but when it hits you… quite frankly… it just sucks.
Home-sickness, I’ve found, is sort of like a hangover in the way that you can’t do anything much about it, you just have to ride it out. It doesn’t matter how much fresh air you get, how much people try to take your mind off it or how many hamburgers you eat, it stays until it decides to leave you alone.
I’ve had home-sickness before when travelling: in very light, brief periods after things go wrong and all of a sudden you find yourself crying and wondering why the hell you left the comfort of home to journey to the other side of the world alone! But of course travelling-home-sicknesses generally passes pretty quickly… as soon as you walk into the next bar.
The first few weeks in Austria were a bit of a blur… I was the exciting, new person, everyone was careful with me, spoke in their best Genglisch and there were lots of opportunities for fun activities. The first time I noticed home-sickness, strangely enough, was when I was peeling potatoes. I was using a potato peeler I wasn’t used to. It wasn’t bad, by any standards, but I just couldn’t get my fingers to work around it. And that was it – bam: hysterical crying. Why have I left the comfort of Australian potato peelers (and everything else) for this??
And then the food… how can I make rum balls, lemon slice and choc chip cookies when sweetened condensed milk and brown sugar aren’t pantry staples? And how will I survive when the Asian section of the main supermarket is smaller than a cutlery drawer?
Anyway, things got better. I sourced brown sugar, an Asian shop and sweetened condensed milk. I learnt to recognise the signs of home-sickness so when it hit me I could do my best to ride it out in the comfort of my own home (but it’s not my home, dammit!). I’m happy where I am, I’m happy with my man and I just want to be with him. It’s definitely hard, living in a strange country, where everything is foreign and it takes some time to get used to, but it does get easier.
Still, I have to be prepared that every single happy event here or back at home also gives me a sad feeling. A wedding, a birthday party, even the smallest thing (like peeling potatoes) can trigger it. Directly after the exhilaration of finally getting my visa, I experienced the exact opposite feeling… dread. I wasn’t here just for a holiday of three months anymore… I was here for AT LEAST a year.
I almost left it behind over summer. The weather warmed up, Thomas and I enjoyed a few holidays and I even had a friend from London visit me. I was finding my way around, managing to speak basic sentences and order for myself.
And then the unexpected happened: I got a job interview, a proper one. And with the excitement of a job also came the unease. But what if I get it? Then I have to stay here? Of course, that was the plan, we were trying to stay here, but in the back of my mind I never thought it would actually get a job in Austria.
Luckily the interview process was extremely drawn out so it gave me a few months to adjust. But in the last two weeks before I began work, the following things happened: I picked up my official work visa, I received a work start date, my parents sent my final box of things from Melbourne, I bought a car and I prepared a lot of paperwork that cut ties with Australia…
Basically, I was an excited but highly emotional mess. The relief at finally having a place to put my two feet on was tipped by the fear of how I would actually cope in this new world. Would I survive in an almost-all-German-speaking workplace? What would it be like? How would I go driving in the snow in winter? Would I die?
Sounds melodramatic, but it was highly stressful, not just for me, but also for Thomas who supported me through each wave, and was going through his own stress because he had to do most of the organisation work (he being the native speaker).
And then I heard from one of my best friends that one of her relatives had died. He was a good guy and it was a shock. Things in my world weren’t going to change because of it, but that’s when it hits you again – because if I’d been in Australia I would have been straight in the car and on my way to her place. But being here, all I can do is write some well-meaning text messages, plan a Skype chat, send some flowers. And it makes me think, what happens when something really goes wrong, with one of my relatives or a close friend. What if I can’t be there for them?
But this is what we do. And having the opportunity to live in another country, work in another country, learn a different culture and language… well it really is a privilege. Not everyone gets such opportunities.
And I’m happy, and I’m ready for the next challenge. Home-sickness or not, I’m ready for it and I’ll head into my new world, eyes glistening but chin up.