Home Sweet Home

Photo from Kristina Alexanderson via http://www.flickr.com/photos/kalexanderson/5884796087/

Photo from Kristina Alexanderson via http://www.flickr.com/photos/kalexanderson/5884796087/

I’ve dealt with homesickness since I first went away to camp for a week in 6th grade. It was the longest I’d ever been away from home, and I was not prepared. That first time, I thought something was really wrong. I felt sick to my stomach constantly and spent most of my time in the nurse’s office. I had no idea I was “just” homesick until I was home and recovering. I hadn’t really missed my parents or my house so much. I had just felt awful.

According to this CNN article, “homesickness isn’t necessarily about home. And neither is it exactly an illness…Instead, it stems from our instinctive need for love, protection and security — feelings and qualities usually associated with home…When these qualities aren’t present in a new environment, we begin to long for them — and hence home.”

I may be older, but I still get homesick. Usually, it comes in waves. I’ll be totally fine one day and unexpectedly bereft the next. But like the article says, the feeling doesn’t have anything to do specifically with the home Brian and I left. I don’t specifically miss the house we sold to come to Denmark, or our favorite restaurants, or seeing the Arch in the distance. (Oh, but I do desperately miss Target. We live in the city center, and there’s just no big, all purpose store where I can get towels, lamps, shampoo, groceries, and medicine at the same time. I really miss that.)

It’s more that I miss being sure of my surroundings, knowing where everything is and the best way to get there. I miss my job and my coworkers, even though back at home you’d find me complaining about having to get up and go to work every day. I miss my routine and knowing my place and purpose. I miss the familiar.

Part of the problem is probably that I’m not sure what I want to do here in Aarhus, I’m not sure what my new routine should be. Should I try to find a new job? My life has always been focused on work. Even while I was at school I was working, and I’ve rarely – never? – been between jobs but rather always went from one job to the next. But here in Denmark, finding a job is going to be 10x more difficult than in the US, and I have so many other options. I could volunteer. I could pursue another degree. I could focus on Danish lessons. I could plan trips across the globe. I could write the next great American novel. I could become the best expat blogger on the interwebs!

Or perhaps I’m still holding back from fully accepting my new life in Denmark. Perhaps it’s just now hitting me that, no, this is not a prolonged vacation but rather my new reality. It’s a known fact here in our house that I’m slow to warm up to things, and I may still be warming up to my individual, independent experience here in Aarhus.

This week, homesickness has hit me because I’ve caught a cold and have been laying on the couch all week watching American movies. There’s nothing like being sick to make you miss the familiar, especially knowing where to buy cold medicines and which ones to buy! We also just found out that our first niece is about to be born back home! We’re so excited, but it’s a huge bummer that we can’t be there to greet her in person.

The good thing is that I’m here with someone whom I love, my husband and family, which makes the whole experience a thousand times easier. And what I miss most – familiarity – will come. I know that all I need is time and perspective. The latter I get in spades from Brian who, I’m pretty sure, has never been homesick in his life. He adapts too well and is very good at living in the moment. A natural zen master. The former will come naturally. I just have to trust in the process and remember what it’s like to get through homesickness to what lays on the other side.

The summer of 7th grade I went back to summer camp, and I had the best time ever. The camp hadn’t changed at all. I even went with the same people. The only difference was in me.

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26 thoughts on “Home Sweet Home

  1. Very well written post! It’s funny, you, another blogger whom I regularly follow and I were all writing posts at the exact same time 🙂 I know these feelings and laughed especially about 6th grade camp because I experienced the exact same thing!! I actually threw up in the bathroom before I left my house because I was so nervous but then had a decent time.

    I get these feelings in waves as well, that is why I wish I knew more Americans in my area because that would be comforting to just be able to sit and drink a coffee with another American from time to time, not that I don’t appreciate my German friends and our conversations but there is nothing like spending time with another native speaker and discussing topics with someone who came from your country. All of the expat meet-up groups in Germany are all far away from my city :/

    I have only ever spoken to one other native English speaker here and he came from Britain, it was like Christmas morning all over again to talk to him. I probably creeped him out a bit haha. I wish you the best of luck in your pursuit towards your new life and whatever might come your way. I feel your pain with the whole job situation, trust me.

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    • Thanks Josh 🙂

      You probably have an enviable situation for most expats, a built in native community. It seems like every other article I read about being a good expat mentions that you should try your hardest to get to know some native people. And I think this is usually difficult for expats. But because of your wife, you’re ready to go!

      But I can totally see how that could mean a much bigger culture shock, if everyone you talk to doesn’t quite share your language and values and outlook. It’s really the little things that can make a big difference, I think.

      I’ve been lucky and have met a few Americans and native English speakers here through expat organizations but also Brian’s Danish coworkers have been super welcoming to us. So now we’re just working on strengthening those relationships and making actual friends. 🙂

      What is your job situation?

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      • Yeah, I have to admit that my adjustment was made much easier since I was able to meet all of my wife’s friends and establish friendships with them myself. It would be great if there were some Americans near me but at the moment I can’t seem to find any :/ That’s really good that you have met some Americans and other native speakers already, that has got to be comforting. Your husband’s coworkers sound very welcoming as well.

        I currently work for a company which is literally on the opposite side of the country. My boss and I have been speaking lately about how I plan on going further with the company by being so far away (at the moment it is alright to work from home and telecommute each day) but to really become integrated into the company I need to move closer, which would mean living a double-life so to speak. I would live half of the week near Berlin and then come home at the end of the week. My problem with that is that my wife and I had a long-distance relationship for years before I moved to Germany and now that we are together every day, we don’t want to be separated once again, ya know? It’s difficult but I also have to think about the money, our bills and our entire financial situation so I don’t want to simply leave the job due to that reason. I am appreciative that I actually found a job at a German company so quickly and am also thankful that my boss gave me a chance despite the physical distance and understand his point of view about moving closer but it’s complicated 😦

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      • Oh man, that does sound complicated. My husband and I did the long distance thing for a year in college, and it was not fun. Have you checked out the job market to see what the chances are of you finding another job closer to home? The good thing is that at least now, even if you quit, you have German experience on your resume. That’s what everyone I know is having the most trouble with here, getting that first Danish job for their resume.

        Good luck with everything! Job decisions always seem to be super tough and complicated, unfortunately. But I’m sure whatever you decide, it will turn out just fine.

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      • Thank you, yeah I have checked but it’s complicated in its own actually. I don’t know if it is necessarily different in Denmark but since I am American but do have a legal working and residence permit, I am allowed to work but even if I am qualified for a job and a German or anyone from the EU applies for it and is qualified, they come before me always. So, I not only have to be super qualified but also hope that nobody else applies for the job or is not qualified for it. Everything always works out somehow or another, we will both figure it out soon enough 🙂

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      • Woah. I don’t think it’s quite like that in Denmark. I think they probably give preference to native applicants for many jobs, but I don’t think it’s an actual rule. So most of the people I know are looking for jobs where being international is a benefit.

        Hang in there!

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      • Yeah, it’ll all work out. Thanks for the nice comments! Well, I gotta go start my day although it’s already 10:30 haha, I hope you have a good day and are having better weather than we are down here.

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  2. I really love how you wrote this and laid it all out especially with the camp references. I’ve never been to camp! 🙂 But I think the unknown, so much change and adaptation, lacking something familiar all make it hard to find a groove which then makes us homesick. I went from being the bread winner to the stay at home parent and moved to a new country all in one. I have no idea what to do next. I try to just keep it in the back of my mind while moving forward. I think you and I (and other expats) have the opportunity to find a real niche. So I’m holding out hope for that!

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    • Thanks! I was a little nervous just to put it all out there since I think there’s a bit of a stigma against being homesick. Especially for people back home, it seems like we’re doing all these exciting things all the time so why should we be homesick.

      I totally know how you feel about leaving your job and adjusting to being stay at home whatever now. (I’m not a parent, so I’m just a housewife for the moment I guess, lol). But I also agree that it’s a real opportunity to do something totally different and new. So I’m trying to focus on that, but with so much else going on I sometimes have trouble focusing.

      We’ll get there, though!

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  3. I’m going back to the US for a visit next week, and I”ve been thinking about how I’m actually going to be homesick for here while I’m there! I’m already getting nervous for leaving everything I’ve gotten used to, and going back to things I used to know, but that have changed so much since I’ve last been back (nearly two years ago)

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    • Two years is a really long time to be away! I can totally appreciate how you feel. It will be one year before we go back to the US, and already I’m imagining all the things that will have changed. But our situation is a bit different. This is a temporary – 3 year – stint for us, while for you it sounds more permanent.

      They say reverse culture shock is not as well known or appreciated as normal culture shock. You do so many mental acrobatics to get adjusted to life in a foreign country that going home and undoing some of that can be quite a shock, I would imagine. But just think of all the good things that will come with your trip! Seeing friends and family, some of your favorite old places, introducing your new baby to everyone 🙂

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  4. Oh wow. This post should be required reading for all expats; you write so well, Allison! Even after almost seven years here, I still experience some of the emotions (and face some of the same decisions) that you describe.

    This is for you … it’s from a future post of mine about “What I miss in the U.S.” 🙂

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    • Thanks Cindi 🙂 You flatter me. In some ways it’s nice to know that career expats still feel a little homesick from time to time. It makes me feel like I’m in good company, I guess. But in other ways it worries me that I’ll still be feeling homesick 3 years from now! Though I know it comes in waves like any other emotion and you just have to work through it or wait till it passes.

      Super Target! 🙂 It’s really the only store I miss from the US. It’s just so convenient!

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      • A LOT of my longing for the U.S. is because of missing my adult daughters, and wishing I could be closer to my aging Dad … I don’t think you can project too far into the future based on my mid-50’s emotions! 🙂

        And I’d agree with you about Target … except I also miss this one too. (I told my family that I had single-handedly helped Ottumwa’s economy by my visit.) 😉

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  5. I’ve lived in Korea for 15 years, and if this place can become home, I think any place can. For me, it just slowly dawned on me that I really live here and that I really liked living here. I’ve never been to Denmark, but as a Western European country I’m sure that the adjustments would certainly be doable. My unsolicited advice would be to give it time. You may never grow to love it, but it will feel more like home.

    I blog about expat life a lot too. Please drop by if you get a chance. Good luck!

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    • Thanks for visiting my blog! I totally agree. We’ve only been here 3 months and in many ways are still settling in. And we definitely have it easy as far as culture shock goes. We’re only ever surprised by the little things. Many big things, from the food to the values, are very similar.

      I’m excited to read your blog. I can’t get enough of the expat subject right now 🙂

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      • Thank you for the visit. I look forward to reading more about expat life in Denmark. I’ve met some great people from there and it’s definitely on my bucket list. Good luck and keep on blogging.

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  6. Being in a new place is tough, especially when the culture is different and there are no Targets to be found. (God was I thankful when I was in the UK that there were Pizza Huts) However, within all of this, you may learn a little bit about yourself…like how good of a blogger you are.

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    • True, true.

      I can’t believe there were Pizza Huts in the UK! How random. There are 7-11’s all over the place here, and I think it’s just the weirdest.

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  7. Aahh, homesickness. Been here 6+ years, and still get a wave now and then. I imagine it will happen no matter how long I’m here. But, overall, it’s not too bad. Many things are easy enough to figure out and adjust to, which definitely makes it less difficult than some places, I think. There are, of course, some challenges to deal with that can be more stressful for some, than others. I hope any of your challenges are as stress-free as possible.

    FYI, if you haven’t figured it out yet, Bilka is a good place to do the overall shopping. Groceries, clothes, furniture, electronics, pretty sure if they could take the overall oddity out of it they’d sell houses and coffins there. 😀 But it’s a good shop to get most things at one go.

    Second, again if you haven’t already been there, check out the Aarhus English Bookstore, at 53 Frederiks Allé. Owner is pretty cool, an American who’s been living here 25 years now. Lots of books and other goodies. She also runs a friendly little lunch group on Thursdays at the FO Aarhus, in the basement of Vester Allé 8 (11:45-13:30). If you want to bump into other international folks, and the occasional Dane, it’s a nice, inexpensive lunch break. She announces the lunch weekly on her FB page (englishbooksaarhus), as well as a few other groups

    Welcome to Denmark!

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    • Thanks for your incredibly sweet post, Wren! This is our first time living overseas, and aspects of it have been a bit hard to adjust to. Of course, we knew it would be, so it’s just about getting through the slump through to the other side. And I agree, Denmark really is pretty low on the culture shock scale, so I think we’re doing pretty well so far.

      We have been to Bilka and definitely love it as a one stop shop. Unfortunately, since we’re in Aarhus Center there’s not anything like it that’s not a 20 minute bus ride away. Which isn’t a big deal, it’s just a lifestyle adjustment. For some reason, though, it’s one of the major things I find myself missing.

      I have heard of the English Bookstore and actually just found out that an American owns it. I haven’t been there yet, though, and had no idea that the owner had lunches. I’ll definitely have to check it out!

      Thanks so much for all the information and the welcome 🙂

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      • You’re most welcome. 🙂 It’s always nice to know that there are others out there who know what it’s like to wander, and even nicer to know that there are some other wanderers who are local. For those times when you just want to hear someone who ‘sounds like home’.

        I hope to run into you at the shop sometime (I hang out with the owner a bit, trying to help her when I can), or at one of the lunches. Since you followed my blog, I guess I better dust it off and get back to writing.

        Take good care, don’t hesitate to ding me if you want to say hey.

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      • Sounds wonderful! 🙂 I’ll look for you when I finally get over there. I very much appreciate the offer of help, and I may take you up on it sometime 🙂

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  8. Pingback: Onward and Upward | Our House in Aarhus

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