It’s been a week! Well, it’s been a week since I left the United States, though tomorrow will be my official in-country anniversary. But soon it will have been so long that those differentiations will be meaningless, which is one of the weirdest things I’m going through right now: constantly re-configuring my brain so that I remember this is not a week-long trip. I live here. One week down, fifty-ish more to go.
That doesn’t make me scared or anything, it’s just weird. After all, I’ve never really been one to get homesick (although I have stared sullenly into the darkness at night, wishing Rory’s tiny paws would push my arm around for optimal snuggling). I feel okay about this being more than a vacation, it’s just….weird!
The hardest part, I think, is balancing socialization and self-care. The newness and the change and the stress of figuring things out makes me want to isolate myself in my room. I need the privacy and calm to make me feel safe. Some days I have to force myself to join the students for lunch, and some days I just stay in my room. It’s messy: I’m lonely, and the answer to loneliness is to force myself to interact with people, but interacting with people just drains me and makes me miss people who don’t drain me even more.
Luckily, I’d talked with Roy about this before I moved. I told him how my first week in Senegal I had a “cold” and stayed in my room for nearly a week. I was embarrassed about it, but looking back, I know I did what was necessary for me at the time. Roy said there’s a lot of pressure (internally and externally) to move or adjust “in the right way.” But that’s so dumb to force myself into unnecessarily uncomfortable situations just because I “ought” to. So instead, I try to push myself a little bit every day, and then cut myself a lot of slack. I’ll be here for an entire year; I’m allowing myself time to feel safe and comfortable. I don’t have to master everything all at once.
After explaining myself, though, I’m struck by how much has happened in just one week. I’ve made pretty genuine friends with several people at the school. I’ve met with the House of Damaris women twice – once to officially open the bank account and then have a meeting, once to look at a potential house that fell through. I instantly felt like a part of the team, and I think I can see my place in the group, offering structure and focus to conversations.
Anthi (one of the HoD women) and I have hung out several times now. She is the only other single woman in the team, and I think we’re going to become good friends. She took me to Pallini to get a Greek phone card, and on Friday she took me to downtown Athens. She lives across the street from a cinema that is only open during the summer, and I mentioned wanting to see the new Avengers movie in May. “I love Avengers!” she said, and we fangirled about how much we will be friends. Hours later she said she hated superheroes, and in complete betrayal, I asked, “But what about Avengers!?” “Yes, I like adventure,” she responded, and this time I heard the difference. She loves to travel, though, and we are already fantasizing about trips to Scotland, Budapest, or somewhere else in Greece.
On Monday I am starting a month-long intensive Greek language program in downtown Athens. It’s three hours a day, five days a week, for four weeks. It will take an hour for me to get there by bus/metro/walking, and the same to get home, at which point they say I will have to do another three hours of Greek homework. It was all discussed, planned, and completed within a couple hours, and the whole thing was so overwhelming that my previous fear of traveling by myself via public transit disappeared. Anthi told me what to do, sent me off on my own, and I wound up back at GrBC alive and unflustered. It’s amazing how a Big Scary Thing can erase Smaller Scary Things.
It’ll be good, though. I mean, I think I’ll hate it, but at least I’ll be trying. And hopefully I’ll make friends with the other foreign students, and maybe we can sightsee a bit after class every once in a while. It will be really convenient to have to travel so much so often, and by the end of the month I think I will be an expert at the Blue Line, at least.
I’m feeling really good about my time here. I’m taking it slow, but things are happening. I’m hard on myself, but I’m practicing gentleness. The excitement of new stores, new currency, new experiences is really fun. Good conversations are happening. It doesn’t feel like home yet, but I can see the pieces falling into place.