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Guille

The one you were…

05. März 2015 | von

It´s been a week since I came back to my country… one more left before I return to Germany. This is the second time I came since I left to live in Europe, only this time I only have 15 days to see and do as much as I can. First things first, so I stayed with my family before going around to visit the touristic areas, after all, this is vacation time here… time to enjoy, but also time to meet with this pain that experts call “reverse cultural shock”.

In a few words, reverse cultural shock is the feeling that, after being away from home for a long time, the place you return to does not fit the image you kept in mind, that the place you know and love does not exist anymore but in your memory and since the image we have in our mind barely changes over time, it remains kind of frozen. That means that the fact that we are not there to see the new houses, people, streets, etc. makes us lose awareness of the fact that most cities, people and lives in general tend to evolve over time. This is particularly hard to take when we think about the images we keep of family and friends and how their faces, their color of hair, their features and those things that time tends to leave its print on have changed without us being able to adjust. One does not notice gray hair from one day to the next one, but the process of aging flows with time and we can flow with it, unless we leave for a year or so and then come back expecting to find something that just does not exist anywhere else than in pictures and memories. There is even the shock of being seen as a foreigner by those who arrived to your city while you were away and never knew you, which only deepens the feeling of not belonging.

The stress of relocating to another country and moving back and forth can be particularly complicated if you don’t speak the language, and according to some experts homesickness can have similar symptoms to depression. In extreme cases it can lead to panic attacks, and can also result in social withdrawal, sleep disruption, nightmares, and concentration problems… for me it means been there, done that. There are other aspects to consider, like the fact that those places you used to visit are maybe not safe anymore due to criminality or social issues, that the back-then empty fields are now overcrowded, that others members of your family or friends have also left the city, etc. These impressions are usually shared by those who have been absent for a long time, but for those who only took a short trip and especially for those who have always lived in the same place these thoughts sound as an exaggeration or are just too hard to fully understand.

Some particular things have a kind of mean ability to trigger homesickness: a song, a smell, even a word we hear. For those who have been there and felt it, it´s easy to feel identified and understand the power of memories. In order to feel prepared to „fight“ back and to feel a bit more in control of our emotions, social psychologist Dr Gary Wood advises people suffering from homesickness to write down three new things that one has been grateful for every night, as well as three things one is looking forward to every morning, in order to have a clear idea of what one can achieve and what one has become over time, but sometimes seeking professional advice is necessary, because the feeling of loss is just overwhelming and our capacity to adjust is not up to the test.

These days have brought a mixture of happiness, sadness, missing what was and cannot be again, even the feeling that I miss the place where I currently am and the fear that departing will be much more painful than „expected“… if that is a word to use when talking about pain. To sum it all up, I want to quote a couple of lines by Alberto Cortez, a very famous singer from Spain, in one of his most beautiful – and painful – songs he sings: „un corazón sin distancia quisiera, para volver a mi pueblo…“ –> I wish I had a heart without distance, to be able to return to my town.

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