The Intentional Expat

Living Your Best Life Abroad

When I Get Homesick, I Stop Being Homesick and Be Awesome Instead

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As part of my #tbt blogs, I´m posting a story I wrote back in May 2010. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)was created in order to help individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder. However, many of the techniques used by this discipline can be helpful for people dealing with other psychological problems, or even emotional distress that can happen to any of us on any given day. One of the techniques DBT uses to deal with distressing emotions is ¨Opposite to Emotion Action.¨ In short, it means doing the opposite of what you feel like doing by carrying out an action that is going to have positive effects rather than negative ones. For example, if you wake up feeling sad and don´t want to get out of bed, you get out of bed. If you´re angry and feel like hurting someone, you walk away. It doesn´t mean you suppress your emotions, it means you put your energy towards doing something that may ultimately help to decrease the distressing feelings. And it can be a great trick to use to fight homesickness. 

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Living in Spain is overall pretty awesome. Not a day passes without an adventure and I always seem to have at least a little time to enjoy the fiestas, the siestas and the other fun that goes hand in hand with living abroad. However, being here isn’t a 24/7 party. I have to get up and go to work, pay my bills and clean my room. It’s still real life. And like real life everywhere, sometimes it just plain sucks.

Last Sunday was one such moment. Usually I sleep until at least noon on the weekends and it takes a lot to drag me away from my comfortable bed. However, this particular morning I awoke at 9:30am wide awake and completely homesick. I felt the familiar stir underneath my chest, like a swarm of moths trying to break free from captivity and the fact that going home is completely out of the question only makes their wings beat faster. I’m halfway around the world from my family and even worse, all of those people I hold dear to me back at home were sleeping at this time.

Maybe it was the apartment I’d looked at on Saturday, where I’d considered living for the summer, maybe it was the weather change here that’s been making me nostalgic of summer in Seattle, or maybe it’s the fact that only five weeks remain before a huge majority of my friends here in Madrid head home. Whatever the reason for the panic I was feeling that morning, it was undeniable that I was deep within the throws of homesickness.

I found myself cleaning the kitchen and my room in order to distract myself as my mind raced through the significance of my current state. Maybe I too needed to end this adventure in four weeks? What more would I gain from sticking around here another year? Maybe I needed to go home for two months this summer and cancel my plans to work at a summer camp? I definitely needed to go home at some point, regardless of the ticket prices (which have increased thanks to the recent changes of the euro’s value). I spent the rest of the morning looking up plane tickets, searching for jobs and emailing friends at home.

When my roommate Melissa (yep, we have the same name) finally woke up, I was nowhere closer to a conclusion and just as homesick. Being the good friend she is, she insisted that we needed to get out into the city so I could remember all of the reasons I’m living in Madrid right now.

Getting out there and meeting new people (especially attractive locals) is a great way to fight homesickness

Getting out there and meeting new people (especially attractive locals) is a great way to fight homesickness

First stop was the gym for “Sunday Spa Day” where we enjoyed a quick workout and then headed to the pool to enjoy the miniature “spa” at the gym we belong to. Then it was off to La Latina where we grabbed ice cold beer and joined the masses of Madrileños soaking up the sun. We instantly made new friends and the situation started to look brighter. Then we discovered that this was the first Sunday of free concerts in La Latina! We couldn’t resist.

After enjoying the music we decided it was time for tapas. Refusing to eat indoors we decided to wait out a table on a crowded patio. In the meantime a group of Spanish girls strode up and dropped their moped helmets onto the only open table (which we hadn’t grabbed due to the lack of chairs). Melissa and I exchanged nervous glances. We had already been waiting 20 minutes for a table and it was becoming evident that these girls were intent on snagging the next available chairs. Now I tend to be a fairly passive person, but I am sick of being taken advantage of just because I am obviously not Spanish and don’t have the same grasp on the language. I began to plot what was going to go down if these girls dared to steal the chairs from us. It didn’t look pretty. But then something happened that completely surprised me and restored my faith in Spaniards. A group of guys at a nearby table made eye contact with us and told us not to worry, that they would give us the chairs first. And then a guy at another table asked us if we’d like their chairs because we had obviously been waiting longer. Success!

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Unexpected live music is always a surefire way to cheer me up.

 By Monday morning my homesickness had been replaced by a determination to ensure that an awesome week lay in store—not always such an easy thing to hope for on a Monday morning, especially considering that this was exam week at school and everyone was on edge. But I was determined.

 Monday night I headed across the street to my coworker’s house to lounge on his balcony and enjoy the ambience of twilight in Spain and ice cold cerveza. The three plus hours of reflecting on this past year, the state of the economy, our career aspirations and relationships in general was exactly what I needed. Not to mention that I suddenly saw Madrid in a whole new light from his balcony. If Madrid could really be this awesome, I definitely needed to stick around. All I needed was an awesome balcony (which I am fairly close to securing!)

 The awesomeness continued into Tuesday when I had the pleasure of finally meeting up with my friend Elena, a Spanish girl who I got to know last summer when she was living in Seattle. She reminded me of all of the reasons why I should stick around Madrid for another year, as well as why I should make sure I had some time to spend in Seattle this summer. She encouraged me to call her whenever I was feeling homesick and reassured me that I had plenty of friends right outside my front door in my home away from home. I do feel incredibly lucky to have such awesome friends so far away from Seattle. Later, after I hit up the gym, I saw a guy speeding down the street on a unicycle. Now that is pretty awesome and the fact that I live in a city where I can see stuff like this is pretty awesome too.

The combo of a  picnic in the park and good conversation is a great way to keep blues at bay.

The combo of a picnic in the park and good conversation is a great way to keep blues at bay.

 The highlight of the week came on Wednesday when my friend Adam arrived from the states for a two day stopover in Madrid on his way to spending a summer in France. There’s nothing to shake away homesickness like a familiar face. And if my sister won’t come to visit me, well then the next best thing is her friend’s boyfriend. Unfortunately I just missed his arrival in Madrid before I had to head back to work, but thankfully he made his way to my apartment where my roommate was gracious enough to let him in. She then went on to grill him about how a 22 year old and a 25 year old could be friends. How could those spheres of people ever meet?

 In hopes of beating jet lag, Adam and I headed into the city center for a look at Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor (two of the main sites here). Then we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and meander all the way over to Retiro Park. We spent our walk catching up and reminiscing about the awesome week my sister and I had spent in Austin two years ago. Then it was time to walk back home and meet up with my roommate Melissa to introduce Adam to “our bar” and the deliciousness of their tinto de verano and tostas with queso de burgos and jamon Serrano (my personal favorite).

 Thursday I took advantage of my long midday break and headed back to Madrid to meet up with Adam for a picnic in Parque Oeste (a five minute walk from my house). We chatted about a myriad of topics, ranging from the dangers of making your passion your career, to the complexities of navigating life outside of college when you realize that the measures of success within the classroom walls do nothing to prepare you for assessing success in the real world. After the philosophical lunchtime conversation my brain was in need of some delicious and cheap coffee so we stopped by one of my favorite cafes before it was time for me to head back to work.

 While I headed to my private classes, Mel was courteous enough to offer to take Adam to the Prado, one of the most important museums here in Madrid. We later reunited at my house and headed into the city center to enjoy Spanish food in my favorite plaza in the city, Santa Ana. We were joined by my coworker Nicole, who offered up her recommendations on the best menu items. I was blown away by how phenomenal the food was at Lateral. By far one of the best places I have eaten in Spain. Not to mention that the plaza ambience of musicians, dancers and a nighttime breeze made the experience that much more memorable.

Visit one of your favorite places in the city to remind you why you love living there. One of those places for me is Madrid´s Plaza Santa Ana.

Visit one of your favorite places in the city to remind you why you love living there. One of those places for me is Madrid´s Plaza Santa Ana.

 After a three hour dinner we met up with Melissa and my coworker Andrew, and Adam officially decided that he wouldn’t be sleeping before his 7am flight. I was a little less certain of my commitment to the night, but that all changed when we wandered down a random street near Sol and I encountered a sign that made it impossible to deny that this night called for celebration.

 Two years ago in Madrid I’d danced a night away at a disco with some Spanish friends. The music had been great, it hadn’t been too crowded or too empty and I’d always hoped of going back. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no idea where said disco was located. I’d searched for it last spring and again this year without luck. Then back in December Melissa and I had stumbled upon this disco after a memorable evening at a bar called “Barcelona.” However, despite wandering nearly all of the streets in the city center, we still hadn’t been able to locate this destination on any subsequent evenings. It became a joke between Melissa and I that Barcelona bar and this disco didn’t actually exist or that they only appeared on particular nights when the stars were aligned or something.

 Which is why I knew I had to rally when last night we stumbled onto an unfamiliar street and were greeted by the sight of none other than the elusive disco. I was speechless and immediately dashed down the street to see if it could possibly be true…that yes indeed we had finally found the location of Barcelona bar!! In order to avoid any future disappointment we decided to take a photo of the street name and then headed into Barcelona bar to enjoy the music and the beer. Of course, it was just as awesome as always and we lived up that awesomeness until 5am when it was impossible to deny the fact that Adam needed to head home to catch a cab to the airport.

When you choose to fight homesickness by getting out in the city, unexpected adventures are sure to find you!

When you choose to fight homesickness by getting out in the city, unexpected adventures are sure to find you!

 There were no time for tears since we were all nervous about whether or not he’d make his flight. Melissa and I helped him to catch a cab and bid him “aurevoir” as he headed off towards the next step on his first European journey: Paris, France. I crossed my fingers that the Eiffel Tower wouldn’t lose any of its charm amidst the terrible hangover that inevitably lay in store for him later that day.

After plenty of sleep, Melissa and I headed out to enjoy our Friday in Madrid. While waiting for her outside of the bank I witnessed a two minute rainstorm, which was just the reminder of Seattle that I was in need of. We got breakfast and popsicles, laughing about the fact that we were enjoying these cold treats on the chilliest day we’ve had over the past week. Later I met up with my friend Lisa (another funny story—we found each other through a Facebook group for Americans who were going to teach in Spain this year. We both lived in Seattle and as it turns out, our parents had worked together and had always talked about how they should introduce us). We marveled at the fact that it has been eight months since the first night we hung out in Madrid and that only five weeks lay between her and her return to Seattle.

 No matter how much homesickness might strike, it is still scary and heartbreaking to have to leave a place you’ve grown so fond of calling your home. There are wonderful things to look forward to at home. Hugs from your family, happy hour with friends and all of the amazing opportunities that a summer in Seattle can afford, but all of this comes with the price of saying goodbye to your “family” in Madrid, to enjoying drinks and tapas on street side terrazas, late nights out in this city that doesn’t sleep until 6am and the opportunities at your fingertips for practicing Spanish. Without a doubt, bittersweet.

And now here I am, almost a week since my homesickness attack, sitting at home on a Friday night and taking advantage of the fact that my BFF in Madrid isn’t here for the night. It’s been too long since I’ve enjoyed a night of staying up late not for the sake of partying, but for the opportunity to read, write and reflect in solace, something I make a priority back at home. I guess I’ve just gotten too caught up in the social buzz of this city and have forgotten how much I need to take time for myself.

 Yes, when you’re feeling sad it does work pretty well to turn your frown upside down and insist on awesomeness instead, but tonight I’m going to opt for “self care” rather than the wise words of Barney Stinson. And while I’m acknowledging and validating my emotions, I’m also going to remember the advice of my out of town guest this week:: “Live in the moment. You just have to take it day by day.” Because in the end, that’s the kind of philosophy that beats sadness AND ensures awesomeness.

If homesickness strikes, drag your feet out of the house and kick it to the curb!

If homesickness strikes, drag your feet out of the house and kick it to the curb!

To learn more about DBT and the personal struggle with mental illness of Dr. Marsha Linehan, the University of Washington researcher who developed it, read more here

 

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Author: Melissa

Born in the rainy, green Northwestern corner of the United States, Melissa relocated to the almost-always-sunny city of Madrid, Spain five years ago. After getting her master's degree, traveling to places her friends at home drooled about, falling in love with a Spaniard, and having her heart broken by said Spaniard, it's safe to say that she's learned firsthand about the less than glamorous side of living abroad. Thankfully, she gets to use this experience, along with her professional expertise, in her work as a mental health therapist in Madrid where she helps other expats learn to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of living abroad. This blog is designed to be informative and is in no way intended to serve as a substitute for therapy.

2 thoughts on “When I Get Homesick, I Stop Being Homesick and Be Awesome Instead

  1. Thanks for reposting this, I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments 🙂

    Like

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