As we begin our sixth day here in our new country, I’m pleasantly surprised and pleased by how well we’re adjusting and how much exploring we’re doing so far. After just a few hours of being at our apartment, we were already out for a walk around the neighborhood to see what’s around us and to find small markets to shop for food items to supplement the basics that my husband’s school provided to us. We were venturing out to the city without much preparation by the second day, and sightseeing and locating restaurants and more shops by our fourth day. We’re using Google maps to find places of interest to explore and venturing out to parts unknown without a second thought. None of this may seem a big deal to someone who’s experienced in moving and living overseas, but for us, for whom this is only the second time living overseas, it’s a huge deal. During our first move overseas, we didn’t start exploring our neighborhood and city until quite a few weeks in, after the feelings of disorientation and displacement had diminished a little. Even then, we were cautious and timid.
That’s not to say, of course, that there haven’t been moments when I’ve felt discouraged and homesick, when things have felt difficult and I’ve just wanted them to be easy. When I least expect it, the pain of homesickness will hit me like a ton of bricks. When I woke up two days ago, a song popped into my head, and suddenly, I longed for the days when I could just turn on the radio and listen to music or the news. In English. While walking down the street in the miserable heat and humidity in search of a grocery store, I wished I could just get in my car with its air conditioning instead of walking blocks and blocks feeling sticky, sweaty, and gross. I miss knowing the location of places, and knowing exactly where to go to get what I’m looking for. I miss being able to simply load my groceries into my car and drive home. I miss being surrounded by familiar things. I miss our apartment. I miss having outdoor play spaces for my son, or just knowing where they are and how to get there. Being here not knowing anyone, I miss seeing my parents and our friends and sharing moments and jokes with them.
Everything feels difficult, from doing laundry (the laundry machine has only Chinese instructions printed on it) and cooking (we don’t use the tap water for cooking) to going out and grocery shopping. It’s relentless and exhausting.
When we first moved to Thailand four years ago, everything was difficult and nothing was easy, just like now. We were challenged at every turn, and there were days when I didn’t think I could do it anymore. But we also grew and became more confident in our abilities to deal with anything that came our way. It was empowering. After repatriating, I gradually felt myself becoming “soft” again, complacent and lazy. I was comfortable and fine with it. These days, I can most definitely feel myself being challenged at every turn again. I can almost feel myself being stretched and pulled mentally, physically, and emotionally. I can feel my brain contorting itself into shapes previously unknown just to understand and deal with what’s happening outside my head and all around me.
The human capacity to change and adapt amazes me. Just when you think you can’t take anymore, you are suddenly feeling better and things are looking up, and you can’t imagine why you ever felt so unhappy. Four years ago, I didn’t think I was capable of starting over, let alone thriving, in a foreign country. Yet, over time, things and feelings slowly changed; I changed, acclimated, re-adjusted, and suddenly, I was transformed. Then, after returning “home” to the United States, I was completely miserable and didn’t think I would ever feel comfortable living there again. Yet, over the last two years, I adapted and became fairly content living in what I consider a hostile environment. Now, once again, my comfort level is being tested. It is a painful and unpleasant process. Yet, I know, slowly and imperceptibly, I am already evolving and adapting. Every day, I will be just a tiny bit more different from who I was while in the United States until, one day, I will again be a new person with a new perspective who wonders why life ever felt so difficult here, at home.