The Loneliness of Culture Shock

I’ve been emailing with a friend of mine who is serving as a missionary.  I asked her how she was doing with homesickness and culture shock, and she wrote back about loneliness. In particular, she wrote one sentence that really resonated with me:  “My most understanding Arab friend thinks in ways that are worlds apart from me.”

This idea, that the very foundation of how we think affects the way we can relate to others, helped me clarify many of my own feelings of culture shock.  I am in a more Western country than my friend, but even in Greece, there is a slow loneliness that comes from representing your nationality by yourself.  Continue reading

The Tyranny of “I Should”

A while ago, a friend said to me, “I’d hoped you would participate more in the school activities…eat lunch with us, maybe go to chapel.”

I froze.  My mind whirred with responses, some excuses, some truths:  “The lunches are too expensive.  I forgot.  A lot of the time I’m busy!  Sometimes I’m too socially tired to leave my room because I’m scared I’ll run into someone and have to make small talk!”

Instead, I answered with a more palatable truth.  “I want home to be somewhere where nothing happens.”

My friend stared at me, and I could see their brain desperately trying to understand what I had said.  Finally, still with a confused look on their face, they said, “Okay.”

I agonized about this interaction for DAYS.   Continue reading

My Desperate Search for Books in Athens

I mentioned a few days ago that I was struggling with the phase of culture shock where everything unfamiliar feels like a personal attack.  Nowhere did I feel this more strongly than in my search for books written in English.  I love to read, books are my happy place, when I see them my face goes all wistful, etc etc.  But everywhere I went, the titles were maddeningly indecipherable.

Duh, Tricia, you may be thinking.  You’re in Greece.

But you’ve forgotten – I’m incredibly privileged, and I expect everything to be available in my mother language!

Which is, you know, selfish.  But also true.  And anyway, it just felt like a slap to my face every time I saw a book and knew that it’s pages – MY PAGES, MY LOVE – were stories and words and phrases that I would never understand.  Street-side book sellers hosted tables full of familiar covers and unfamiliar titles.  The center where I volunteer had a bookcase full of Greek books; I pulled out the most basic books for children and wilted with my inability to translate more than one sentence.  In a desperate attempt to find normalcy, I returned to Omonia where I had once walked through a bookstore to get to a bathroom.  It was made of several rooms, but I found only two bookshelves with English books.  There was nothing worth reading, and I left really dejected.

I complained about this to Argyris on Sunday, and an hour later he exclaimed, “Oh!  There is a big building at Syntagma, next to the McDonald’s!  Public, it’s orange.  There are many books there.  I’m sure they have some in English.”

“You mean there’s been a bookstore right next to my metro stop, and I’ve ignored it for two weeks??”   Continue reading

The Beginnings of Culture Shock

This morning I was in a bad mood.  I felt sickness twisting in my stomach and I was just annoyed by everyone, and no, I am nowhere near being on my period.  Instead, I was suffering from….CULTURE SHOCK.

Everything was wrong.  Nothing was familiar.  I made a list of all the things I miss about the United States:

  • being able to read street signs
  • knowing where to buy a straightener
  • TFC’s worship service
  • Eatzi’s salads
  • being able to watch current TV shows on Hulu
  • Target
  • Rory, my cat
  • speaking quickly
  • libraries
  • knowing that Old Navy is guaranteed to have pants that fit me
  • lots of restaurants with various ethnic foods

As I am very slowly learning, talking about your problems can make them seem more manageable (being a counselor means advising people to do things you are only barely able to do yourself).  So during our break at Greek class, Emi, Elvira, Nir and I sat on the roof to drink tea in the sun.   Continue reading

Culture Shock

GEM, my sending organization, sent a great email about culture shock the other day.  I’d learned about the process while living it in Senegal six years ago, and knowing that what I was feeling was normal helped SO MUCH in not feeling awful or insane.  Before I moved to Greece, I told people that I anticipated the same sort of cycle to occur:

In January, I will be motivated, excited, and overwhelmed.  In February, I will become sullen and withdrawn as reality hits and I process the fact that this is not a vacation and I am not going “home” anytime soon.  In March, someone will visit me, and I will get to show off my new home to them while simultaneously rejoicing in my new role as Not the Dumbest One Around.  In April and May, I will settle into my new life and start to take ownership of my routine, friends, and living situation.  After that…I don’t know, because I left Senegal after five months.   Continue reading

A Week in Greece #1: Everything is New

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!   Continue reading