Expat to Expat Q&A – #5 Homesickness and Cultural Adjustments

Welcome to the September installment of Expat to Expat Q & A, as you know Belinda and I have decided to try something a little different with this months installment and I hope you enjoy it and let us know if you have any suggestions or feedback in general!

Now for the questions!

How do you fit into your new culture without losing some of your identity? 

When we were still living in California one night after dinner Mr. H turned to me and said “when we move please keep cooking the same food” and I said of course I would. The meals I was cooking were the meals I knew how to cook and I knew there would have to be some ingredient changes but I told him those were my meals and a new country was not going to change what I cooked.

Well I was wrong and right at the same time because there is no way a move so big does not change you even down to what you cook for dinner.

I always say I did not move to Sweden to become Swedish but to live in Sweden.  And for the most part that is what has happened but like the addition of boiled potatoes being added into my cooking repertoire I have changed along with the bubbling water in my pot.

What I think can be hard is adjusting what you think and value vs what you do. For example I prefer to eat hamburgers and pizza  with my hands so I still do as it is not being outright rude even though most people you see in restaurants here will use a fork and knife but I always take my shoes off when visiting peoples houses even though it took me a long time not to feel uncomfortable being bare footed as it would be rude to not.

In other ways I have felt that my identity has been strengthened due to being faced with so many new situations and outlooks on life I have had to really think about why and how I choose to do things and not just go along with what was expected of me like at home.

Throughout life though I have always been a bit of an outsider so it is not very surprising I have been a content staying on the fringes of Swedish life as well.

My advice to you though is make sure what you value the most you hold on to but in many aspects you can try something new for a bit and if it is not you it is ok to go back to being the original version of yourself.

In life people want friends who are genuine and true to themselves and in my experience this is no different if you are from America and the other person is from Sweden, China or Antarctica!

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Me and a group of friends from Australia and Poland in London.

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Me and a group of Icelandic students I became friends with in Ireland.

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Me and a few of the people I lived with in London; this mötley crue features South Africans, Kiwis, French and me the lone American.

What do you think your biggest trigger for homesickness is?

I personally consider three places home; Southern California, London, and Sweden and I find for each there is a different trigger for homesickness.

California being my first home has the longest and hardest bouts of homesickness for me to handle and it will often be brought on by interacting with my family. Not that I do not want to be in contact with them but in my day to day life I am focused on the here and now so when I Skype with family members they are so much bigger than in my normal life and therefore I get very homesick. Holidays that are celebrated in America but not Sweden like Fourth of July and Thanksgiving will also get me down so I try to stay away from the internet on them and just once again focus on the here and now.

For London looking at pictures of my life there, like I did for this post, always starts a slow ache in me to get back there and visit my old haunts and catch up with friends still living there. Other things that will start the London ache are any visual media that features places around where I lived, Burger King cheeseburgers (very random but vital to my late night diet at the hostel), subways, and thinking about when Mr. H and I met.

For Sweden when I have been away it has been for vacation so it is a much more literal homesickness in that I am missing my physical home and routine. This summer I missed Sweden in the sense that this is where my life currently is and while vacations are amazing so in my normal life. One day this summer we went to IKEA and honestly I was in tears when we got home because I missed the safety and comfort that is what Sweden is for me now.

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a view I would never tire of, from room 21 at Astor Kensington

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13 thoughts on “Expat to Expat Q&A – #5 Homesickness and Cultural Adjustments

  1. Ha! Yes, even dinner is different. It takes awhile to find substitutions or even to make something different all together. I spent my first year literally trying to find ingredients instead of walking the isles and actually seeing what they have here that I could use.

  2. I eat pizza and burgers with my hands as well and I always feel so disgusting and uncultured when everyone else is usually a knife and fork. Even in the privacy of our home Sam eats those things with a knife and fork.

  3. I so agree with this especially: “I have had to really think about why and how I choose to do things”

    you have to be SO intentional about being an American abroad, I find. I love my country and I’m proud of being American even though I disagree with a lot of what we do and a lot of what we’re known for, and I take my responsibility to be an ambassador (even in the smallest and silliest ways) really seriously. You can’t just go about doing what you do because everyone else does it… they don’t, usually, in your new country!

    • Yes, I always think when I am at a gathering of people I might be the only American they ever interact with in real life so I want to show them the best side of myself at all times so that is what the will take away and hopefully use to compare to news and television shows.

  4. I moved in Sweden three weeks ago. The first three days were the worst because I couldn’t skype without starting crying. But then I was ok or even happy. Today it is my first real homesickness day. I want to get over this feeling but it just came out of nowhere. By the way I come from Greece.

    • I will admit I cried so much in my first two months of being here, it takes time to adjust no matter where you move and Sweden can be extra tricky with unspoken customs and things. I am sure as time goes on though you will find your place here and be happy.

  5. Do you find the Swedes have been quite accepting of the fact that you didn’t know the unspoken customs? I’ve found that much like going to a new school it was hard up to the point that you made just one really good new friend. From that point it’s much easier because they can be a guide for you, and sounding board.
    I always take my hat off (sorry British phrase meaning that I admire) anyone brave enough to go to another country that you have to learn another language!

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