You’ve Got That Homesick Feeling

I felt this way for the first time while I was travelling through Europe four years ago. I’d set up a base with my boyfriend in the UK and was ducking back and fourth to new places, and then suddenly one day in Dublin, surrounded by Australians for the first time in a while, I felt a little off. It wasn’t an anxious feeling, or an ill feeling, but more of a fidgety, not feeling comfortable where I was, sorta feeling. A phone call with said boyfriend, who was an experienced traveler himself, helped me place it: I was simply homesick.

Being around a group of Australians for the day, one of whom I had worked with for a time in Sydney, reminded me of that homely feeling that doesn’t revolve around packing and unpacking suitcases and becoming acclimatised, used to language differences and new cultures and attempting food that could be amazing or truly terrible. Travelling is much like a roller coaster, giving you the highest highs you will ever experience in life and some moments that feel more lonely than you ever could have imagined.

My own diagnosis helped subside the homesick feeling I was having and by the next day it was gone – perhaps this experience left me feeling slightly detached from it, and as though it was simply a chemical reaction and if this came back, it would only last 24 hours again and I could just see it through. Much like coming off a bad hangover with the right foods, painkillers and time to sleep it off.

Since then, homesickness has never been a long term condition. I struggled at one point after four months of living in Germany, when the language wasn’t sticking in my head and I realised just how much I was relying on my boyfriend to live my life. He had to book hairdressers for me, open up bank accounts, deal with my phone company and discuss my rental contract with my flatmates. And when I had a small breakdown over it all, he offered to move to an English speaking country for me, and then I knew it was worth it to stick it out.

People often ask when I will go home, and equally they warn him that at some point he may have to relocate to Australia. Maybe it’s this experience of homesickness that makes me insist so strongly that this will never happen. Rather wallowing in the longing for home, I’ve found ways to reconnect with my Australian-self in this little German village apartment.

  • I cook Australian food. The last couple of months have introduced pavlova, mini pies and custard tarts into our kitchen. Everyone has a hobby to escape the stresses of life, and working in a business with no right answers, for me something like cooking which offers (seemingly) fail-safe mathematical recipes does the trick. And when I’m missing that homely feeling, or I’ve had a day where I feel like this living abroad stuff is pretty tough, cooking a meal that I had as a kid makes me feel centred again.
  • I watch old movies. I read a piece recently about how a writer reconnected with their young-self by watching 90s classic She’s All That (coincidentally she watched it in Germany too), and I had to get my hands on it so badly I ordered it from Amazon immediately. Since then my movie collection has grown to include the likes of The Craft, Centre Stage and Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. They’re not the most critically-acclaimed cinematic experiences, but they take me back to a time when I was easily pleased, I didn’t have to worry about paying rent or washing my clothes and my homework was the toughest thing on my mind.
  • I celebrate Australian holidays with extra gusto. Since leaving the land down under I’ve become far more patriotic, and have been known to wander the streets on special occasions with my Aussie flag draped around my neck like a superman cape. I’m lucky to come from a country which sees it’s own identity in such a positive way and being able to enjoy the likes of Australia Day and Grand Final Day (a very special football game) and explaining to everyone around me why they’re so important to us makes me feel like I’ve come a long way.

We all have ways to make ourselves feel at home when we’re living abroad; unlike most we don’t have the luxury of being within easy distance of a place to go to where it all began. I was talking with RZ about how we might go about getting married one day, and I realised that my wedding might be the only day in my life when all (or most of) my friends and family are together. This thought is both exciting and completely overwhelming. For now all I have is some cakes, or movies, and an occasional holiday to take me back to childhood memories and the comforts of consequent-less living. And that’s enough to soothe my homesick soul for now – I wonder if one day it will change?

xx

World Cup Memories

Memories... one of the best nights of my life!

Memories… one of the best nights of my life!

Four years ago to the day I was in South Africa, having the experience of a lifetime and meeting people who would change life as I knew it. The 2010 World Cup was one of many travelling experiences I would have but it was also by far the best. Spending six weeks travelling across the country for the sake of football, and jumping over to Namibia and Botswana for a time as well, getting to know a country when it’s at it’s happiest and best – a particular achievement for South Africa considering the recent hardships they’ve been through – was something I’ll never forget.

Travelling to South Africa made me realise how much I wanted to live abroad, and upon meeting some English guys who asked what my plans were after the tournament, I immediately said I was moving to England – it was a decision that happened so fast and without any thought and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Naturally, when the final game was over in Johannesburg my mind turned to planning a trip to Brazil. But the last four years have brought so much change, and going from a carefree singleton with no job and a dream to travel to living with my boyfriend, setting up my own company and considering the possibility of starting a family, it would appear that life has made it much more difficult to drop everything for six weeks and let the wind take me to new and amazing places and people.

So the decision was made to sit this one out – to enjoy it in Europe for the first time, and in a country who are one of the favourites to win it – and I know it was the right one to make. Money is now going towards things like paying accountants and saving for a house. And with RZ currently finishing his thesis for his Masters, the thought of taking a big life-changing trip without him was something I didn’t want to do.

But when the first game began on Thursday night, as we sat in a small Mexican bar in the middle of Stuttgart, I really missed being there. I missed being able to witness the happiness and excitement in the streets, the sounds of horns and signing and the feeling that life itself really can be a big party. As the tournament continues I’m sure the interest in Germany will increase – we’re off tonight to the local beer garden to watch their first group match and I’ll definitely get a good taste of the World Cup atmosphere – but I couldn’t help but feel a longing deep down watching a news piece on the Copacabana beach last night that I’m missing something amazing.

Anyone considering travelling to a World Cup, even if you don’t like football – just do it. It was the best travelling experience I have ever had and though it cost a fortune and left me broke afterwards I don’t regret a thing. If it wasn’t for that trip I wouldn’t be the person I am now or in the place I am now. And while I’ve been happy to sit this one out thanks to life getting in the way, when 2018 rolls around and my boyfriend’s native Russia is hosting… just try and keep me away.

 

xx

Visiting Frühlingsfest For The First Time

One of the fairs which Stuttgart is particularly proud of is Frühlingsfest, with the city’s major beer festivals taking place bi-annually as opposed to Munich’s once a year Oktoberfest event. Stuttgart has it’s own version of Oktoberfest in the Autumn too – Cannstatter Volksfest – and my boyfriend made a visit last year while attending an interview for the job he now has. So having been to the last three Oktoberfests and loving every one, for us the prospect of having a similar festival on our doorstep twice a year was pretty exciting. My collection of dirndls continues to grow and with lederhosen for girls becoming more popular it might just include some of that soon too. Oktoberfest to me is everything that’s great about Germany; from the relaxed beer gardens to the party atmosphere, to being able to make your own fun with cheesy English music in the background, it’s a great couple of weeks spent by all. And not to forget the fantastic food and beverages on offer; sorry to say Aussie friends, but it beats any BBQ in the backyard hands down. IMG_3347 IMG_3351 IMG_3353 So we travelled across Stuttgart on Saturday night to the festival feeling particularly excited about what would be on offer; I’d heard it was a younger crowd and obviously it wouldn’t be as big as the Munich version but so long as there is dancing on the tables I’d be happy. My first impressions of the festival were mixed; smoking was allowed in the tents which was probably the biggest downside of the night. For some reason it still seems to be very acceptable in Germany to smoke in public places, and coming from Australia which is at the forefront of getting rid of the deadly habit this still comes as quite a shock to me that so many people smoke in a seemingly well-educated country. That aside though it was definitely much more of a nightclub atmosphere than in Munich with flashing lights playing a big part in the beer tents after the sun went down. There were only three tents which was slightly disappointing but apparently that number rapidly grows for the Autumn festival, and the tents on offer this time around weren’t overly packed. At about 8pm we were able to get into one of the beer tents quite easily while the other two advised us to get there early in the day to either line up for the free tables, or try and purchase a day ticket. Finding a place to sit/stand/dance would prove somewhat more difficult, making getting there early a must in the future, but the party was certainly in full swing as we wondered through with Oktoberfest classic ‘Sweet Caroline’ booming from the band up front.

IMG_3355

The party gets going in one of Stuttgart’s beer tents.

The rides outside the tents were as ridiculously scary-looking as in Munich with every type of torture you could inflict on yourself imaginable. I’m not a big rides fan but RZ is and the prospect of returning here during the week with his work colleagues to give the roller coaster a test drive is certainly appealing for him.

One of the rides takes you through some kind of waterfall backwards and all over the place. I suppose it speeds up the hangover process!

One of the rides takes you through some kind of waterfall backwards and all over the place. I suppose it speeds up the hangover process!

For anyone coming to Germany for a holiday in the spring (end of April to beginning of May), I would definitely recommend giving this festival a go if you’re looking for the Oktoberfest experience of dressing in traditional German gear, drinking good beer, having a plate of chicken and a good old dance on the table. And even in the Autumn I’m told it’s a much cheaper option than it’s more famous brother (a beer is 10 euro with tip in Munich, in Stuttgart it’s 6.80) so it could be worth a visit then as well.

Suffering from Correspondence Guilt

Quote

I’ve been living away from Australia for three years now, though I travelled for around 6 months before making the move a permanent one. While I had a lot of acquaintances in Aus before I left, nowadays I would say that amount has whittled down significantly. When you leave a country permanently, and the friends and life with it, it’s obvious you won’t be there for important moments in those people’s lives and when you’re not there, over time, they can forget about you. I’ve seen wedding pictures on Facebook I know I would have been invited to had I stayed in Melbourne. I’ve watched old friends make big life achievements through social media and wished I had been there through every step, but being so far away makes being such a good friend to everyone I knew before impossible.

I constantly prioritise keeping in touch with people, and particularly with my best friend there are regular Skype sessions where I feel like I’ve almost been there for her first years of marriage, buying a house, starting a business and having a baby. But it’s only almost. It’s a terrible feeling knowing that once-close friends have moved on without you and don’t see you as the person they can turn to for help and advice anymore, and there have been times I’ve questioned my decision to move abroad because of it.

The time difference is also such a big issue, with Europe in day-mode while Australia goes into slumber and vice versa. I try to Skype with as many friends and family as possible but there are only 7 nights in the week and with work in the morning, I can’t just grab a lunch break and talk to them briefly as it’s 11pm by this point over there.

I was discussing this with a English friend who is in Australia at the moment – over Skype of course – and both of us were expressing the constant guilt we feel over not being in touch with the ones we love enough. At any given moment, just looking through my emails, and Facebook, and Whatsapp, and whatever other programs I have that keep me in touch with people, there are countless messages I need to reply to. It can be overwhelming sometimes and reminds you of what you’re missing elsewhere while living your life here.

Of course I’m well aware that I’m bloody lucky to be in a position to have so many friends and family to talk to. Equally, the fact that we have these means of technology is certainly one of the reasons our generations travel so freely compared to the ones preceding us. I wouldn’t be living in Germany if it weren’t for the internet – Google translate alone has been a godsend. And Skype gives me the ability to talk to whoever I want for free across the globe. It’s an invention which can give anyone living abroad much needed strength and dulls the feeling of loneliness on command.

But having such technology, with the ability to contact our friends the world over with ease, also has an added pressure I’m not sure I was prepared for. Finding that my English friend was going through the same thing - trying to coordinate the sails of life abroad with holding onto the anchor of those back home, and struggling with the balance – made me feel less alone in my own struggles.

Constantly worrying over when to sit down and go through messages to reply to often builds up until it becomes too overwhelming, and then I end up not replying to people I care about. On the flip side, I feel frustrated that other people don’t seem to think of me as part of their lives anymore and don’t reply to my own communication. It’s a cycle of stupidity on my part really and it has to stop.

So now that I am settled in a city, hopefully for the long term for the first time in 3 years, I will make more of a conceded effort to plan my correspondence better. To save set times for it and not worry about it outside of those. People have gotten on with their lives since I left, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. And I’ve gotten on with mine too, which they understand.

Making the permanent move to Stuttgart

Sunset over the villages of Strasbourg.

Sunset over the villages of Strasbourg.

My CELTA course is finished; I’m entirely sure I passed; our group have gotten drunk together to celebrate getting through one of the toughest months of our lives; and my bags are packed in Strasbourg.

For the last month I’ve been staying with a family who don’t speak much English or German. They constantly struggle with whether to attempt telling me stories over the dinner table and have done their best to make me feel at home even though I don’t know the language or culture. It’s been challenging at times but knowing I can call them when I need help with anything has made the process of being away from all my family and friends a little easier.

The course itself put stresses on me that I never knew possible. But, having said that, I seemed to thrive on the piles of work to be done and the organisation and planning that went into getting through each day. The first days of teaching brought nerves that made me question why I am doing this again, but like everything difficult the reward was worth the work. By the end of the course teaching was coming naturally to me and just as I help my boyfriend every day with his English, I felt that helping these students was just as important and interesting.

To anyone considering doing the CELTA course I couldn’t recommend it enough. I weighed up the pros and cons of doing a course completely online – the price was far lower than the 1500 euro I paid in Strasbourg but the teaching experience you gain will make your money back within a couple of months. It was amazing to go from feeling like I had no teaching experience to being able to take a class for an hour and run out of time to complete all the tasks I wanted to do. the point of CELTA is all about making lessons student-centred and to be able to get them talking so much English – in one beginners class I was able to teach them vocabulary for spaceships and aeroplanes – without speaking any of their language made me a very confident teacher and I know I’ll be able to find good work in Stuttgart as a result.

It feels like yesterday we were in Berlin celebrating the end of 2013 and now the three months I was so excited about for the travel and move, but feeling anxious about completing the course, are over. Now comes the difficulties surrounding changing visas as I go on a job seeking one. Being taken off a working holiday visa for the first time in Europe is a good feeling and makes this place feel even more like home, even though I haven’t settled into Stuttgart yet.

In the UK, coming off a working holiday visa was particularly difficult and meant I needed to commit to one company for the long-term. In Germany, things are a lot more relaxed – because I’m Australian I can go on a specific visa to look for work and then I automatically change to a work permit when I find something.

The process might seem easier but with it all being in another language the next few months will be tough. Knowing that I’ve survived the CELTA and have found a passion for teaching is giving me a lot of strength to get through it all though.

 

xx