Over the last several months, I’ve read some fascinating information and theories on homesickness and culture shock/cultural adjustment. I didn’t know before I moved to Germany that there was even a cycle. It goes something like this:
- Honeymoon Phase – This is what I like to call the “ooh, shiny!” phase. To borrow from Berkeley, “This phase is best described by feelings of excitement, optimism and wonder often experienced when you enter into a new environment or culture.” Anyone who knows me well understands that I actually spend roughly 70% of my life in this state.
- Crisis Phase – This is where the acute homesickness comes in. Changes in eating and sleeping habits, irritability or sadness, calling home much more frequently, and a host of other depression-like symptoms can be attributed to this stage. This is the time when the different stuff feels a little too different, and you just wish you could be back in more familiar surroundings.
- Recovery and Adjustment Phases – These are exactly what they sound like. You get used to things and you even out. Everything that seemed bad during the Crisis Phase doesn’t seem so bad any more. You start to integrate with your new locale a bit more. Some people adjust so well that they never leave. Some don’t really integrate at all, and become anti-social and reclusive.
Some variations on the so-called “cultural adjustment curve” use slightly different labels – Honeymoon/Negotiation/Adjustment/Mastery – but the basic cycle is the same.
According to the Great and Powerful Google, most people hit their Crisis Phase at around three months. Now that I think about it, I recall that I was definitely calling home a lot more frequently at three months than I do now, but I don’t remember feeling especially homesick at the time. Perhaps my cultural adjustment curve is just slower than most. The reason I bring this up now is because I saw the new Spider-Man movie tonight.
There is no time that I feel more lonely than when I’m in a movie theater filled with other geeks who I can’t talk to. In the US, I usually see this type of movie with some friends- people who speak my language.
I’m not just talking about English here, although that’s a big part of it. Whenever I hear someone speaking English in town, I always want to be part of the conversation, even if they’re going the opposite direction and I have no idea what they’re really talking about. I hear the language, and there’s a tiny part of me jumping up and down and screaming in a tiny voice, “me! me! talk to me! I want to speak English to you!” Yes, sitting in a crowded movie theatre with four German conversations around me that I can’t follow is kind of disheartening. That’s not precisely what I mean, though.
What I mean by “people who speak my language” in this instance is people who can dissect the movie with me afterward. When I see a geek oriented film like this, I want to nitpick in a geeky way. I want to have conversations with people who know the source material, the back story, the universe that film is set in. I want to talk about whether the mechanical web shooters are better than the organic ones, or whether we’ll see Original Recipe Spock in the Star Trek sequel or whether Smaug will look as cool in the upcoming Hobbit films as the Balrog looked in LotR. I want to talk about whether the sequel to this movie will cover a specific story arc, I want to discuss incidental characters and tiny for-the-fans details that not everyone will catch, and I want to gush about the things the movie got right.
I realized while I was walking home in the lovely cooling rain tonight that I have been profoundly missing this type of interaction. I’ve felt it to varying degrees every time I’ve gone to a genre movie here- superheroes, science fiction, Muppets, Sherlock Holmes- when I see these movies, I’m surrounded by a crowd of people who share my interests, and yet I am very much alone. I don’t know any geeky types here in Regensburg to join me for this level of obsession. Not in town around Regensburg, anyway. I have friends here in Regensburg, but nobody that seems to be as deeply into geeky pop culture as I am.
I wasn’t sure how to wrap this up, so I’ll close the post with an explanation of the title.
Sehnsucht isn’t only a well-known Rammstein song. It is a German word which roughly translates to longing, yearning, deeply missing something, or nostalgia. It’s a word which seems to be difficult to pin down or translate clearly because it describes an emotional state rather than something concrete. Sometimes it’s used to refer to a longing for a homeland. CS Lewis described Sehnsucht as an insatiable or inconsolable longing in the human heart for “we know not what.”
I do know what I long for, though- a specific type of friendship and interaction that has been missing for me here.
In its absence, I suppose I could be consoled by some tater tots. And a nice tasty Cola-Weizen.