I know there are charts that document the adjustment period for people living and working in a foreign country, but sometimes I wonder if there are more in-depth studies on how difficult it truly is to integrate and adjust. One begins to feel things that you’ve never really felt before, and without the usual context of your language, familiar cultural, or friends and family, it becomes difficult to parse out the feelings that emerge and understand what is happening.
Before getting too far off onto a tangent, I want to say something that keeps coming up in my mind recently. I have noticed how I have been irritable recently — irritable to noise, to lack of privacy, to people not being friendlier, to my phone being annoyingly slow. I don’t think I appear outwardly irritable, but I have been feeling this build up of irritation and lack of control and am wondering what it will all lead up to.
The strange thought that keeps coming up for me is what it must feel like to immigrate to another country, particularly when you have no other choice. Sometimes, I make cultural mistakes that I don’t understand. Something as simple as not moving out of the way for a man, or having to give my bag to the attendant at a store because they are afraid of me shoplifting. When I realize what I am supposed to do, I’ll do it, but sometimes begrudgingly. Why do I have to do that, when I don’t mean to cause any harm? Why does this culture do this annoying thing, or why don’t they have this wonderful thing that is so plentiful at home?
I feel as though I am catching a small glimpse into what it must feel like to leave your home for another country, and how alone it must feel to the foreigner, and especially when they are trying to learn a new language. I am lucky in that I am well-received in Kosovo, where Americans are usually treated with upmost respect and gratitude, or at the very least a warm curiosity. If I were treated with suspicion, aggression, disdain, or hatred, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to survive.
A Stranger in a Strange Land
Lately, I feel as though I live neither here nor there. I haven’t been home in a few months, and I’ve only been here a few months, and this transition period has made me feel like I really live nowhere. I feel like a homeless nomad; homeless in the sense that nothing feels like home anymore. It’s like I’m just wandering around, teaching and attending meetings and participating in this ragtag group of people that are doing the same thing, but none of it feels very grounded. I am sure, with time, I will feel more at home. But, isn’t my time here temporary, still? There seems to be an overarching theme of transition and temporariness to the essence of life recently. For this reason, it is easy to daydream more and think in looser concepts about life. Perhaps it is easier to think creatively when your life is no longer black and white, but many, many shades of grey.
One of my favorite moments recently has been taking the evening kombi back to my village. The last kombi is full of the high schoolers that attend the school in the city. Around 7PM, the kombi fills up with students, and without much pause the van launches up the mountain, with traditional Bosnian music blaring, the driver hugging the curves against the mountain, and the students all talking at once, laughing, bantering, joking, just living. On a clear night, you can look out the window and see some of the stars, or you can see a cold front blowing in, or you can see nothing but your own reflection in the window. There is something about these evening rides back to the village that I find endlessly magical. I often feel as though we are all trapped in this moment together. I realize with the young people in the van, that there is a positive, almost electric energy, and you can sense that they are just on the edge of life, about to launch into their own stories, and their own lives, and these rides with their peers will soon be history. I wish there was a way to capture this feeling, but without witnessing it firsthand, it is hard to explain how a simple kombi ride feels like a representation of the fleeting nature of life. I want to tell these kids, don’t blink, because this moment will soon be gone! But there is no way to communicate this to anyone, even in our own language, and oftentimes, even to our own selves. We often realize it way too late, when the moment has long passed.