Like a shark.

I’ve heard it said that the first person you meet when you go abroad is yourself. I’ve found this to be kind of true for myself. I’ve learned some things about myself that are no surprise at all, but some of my epiphanies are… not what I expected. Here’s a few of them:

I learned that music keeps me sane.

I already knew this to a point- I knew that music is hugely important to me. I have a freakishly diverse taste in music and most of my friends will agree that if the tv is off and I’m awake, I pretty much always have music running.

What I didn’t really grasp fully was that without music, I get cranky. Really cranky. When my mood is very very high, it can settle me down. If my mood is very very low, it can bring me up.

I’ve commented before that music is often the impetus for a new trip for me, so it serves to keep me exploring as well. Between now and the end of the year, there are four concert trips on my calendar, with another two on my “thinking about going” list.

I’ve learned that I’m pretty relaxed about public transportation.

I haven’t driven a car since last November, and I’m pretty ok with that. I’ve really enjoyed the planes, trains, and bus rides that have made up my experiences in Europe. Even when I’ve gotten turned around, misdirected, delayed, and mildly lost, I’ve kind of had fun.

In addition to that, I really love riding on the rail system here. I’ve been on ICE trains hurtling along at speeds upwards of 250 kilometers per hour- it’s fast, quiet, and very comfortable. There are power outlets on the train, so I can watch a movie or read or listen to music without worrying that I’ll run out of battery before I reach my destination. Most of the trains even have a little cafe/restaurant car called a Bordbistro where I can get a drink, a snack, or a full meal. And best of all, there are no flight attendants telling me that I can’t get up to use the restroom when we’re leaving the station.

Trains are good.

I learned to spot more things that give me headaches.

I’ve had headaches at a mild migraine level for as long as I can remember. I’m always looking for new triggers because having headaches this often sucks royally. I knew that McDonald’s french fries are typically a trigger for me. I think it’s the high sodium, but I’m not positive of that because other french fries don’t necessarily affect me the same way. I learned very recently that Currywurst has the same effect on me as McDonald’s french fries- a near instantaneous spike-in-the-eye-socket of a headache. I’ve also had headaches triggered by the weather patterns that come off the Alps, but I’m not sure whether it’s low pressure or high pressure or both that does it. Speaking of pressure, I’ve learned that any ICE train ride of more than about three hours will trigger a massive headache that makes me useless for most of the rest of the day.

I’ve learned that I’m a pretty adventurous eater… to a point.

When I was in Hong Kong a few years ago, I tried Fugu (blowfish), kangaroo meat, jellyfish, and Thousand Year Egg. None of them bothered me in the slighest, but as soon they brought out the duck with the head and neck still attached, I got pretty squicked out.

On a recent trip to Berlin, I tried the Pferdfleisch pizza. That’s horse meat. It was a little like salty bacon, to be honest- it’s not a flavor I would seek out, but it wasn’t bad. Two days before the horse meat pizza, however, I was at Dult with Jenny and Robert for dinner. Robert purchased a cooked and breaded fish for his dinner, but the thing was still mostly intact. It had a head, a tail, and a spine. That just grosses me out.

I’ve learned that I have to keep moving.

This was a difficult realization for me. I’ve always felt like I was more or less comfortable in my own skin, but then I started to notice certain patterns in my own behavior. If I don’t have very specific plans- somewhere to go, something to do, or someone to see- I tend to isolate myself. My personal inertia can easily keep me stuck in the apartment for a day or an entire weekend. I might be able to peel myself out for an hour or so to get some food, but that’s it. If I don’t have plans, I won’t go anywhere. When I feel like that, I don’t get anything useful done at home either. Homesickness and loneliness can be insidious that way.

I read once that sharks have to keep swimming or they’ll sink to the ocean floor. Without the forward motion to keep water flowing over their gills, some species will even die. That’s kind of how I feel these days, like I need to keep moving or I’ll sink.

I tried to stay put for the month of August, and I made it one weekend before I made plans to leave town again. Two months ago I thought I had locked in all my travel plans through my end-of-the-year US trip, but since that time I’ve added four more small trips, and I’m considering several more.

My friends back home, commenting on the near-constant traveling that I’ve been doing for the last six months, often rave about how awesome my life must be and what an amazing experience I’m having. On paper, they’re absolutely right. Compared to many people, I have a pretty amazing life. Hearing it said just makes me feel worse though. Makes me want to go somewhere else.

Yup, gotta keep moving.


Sehnsucht, I Has It.

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.