El Inmigrante

Living abroad / Vivir en el extranjero

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Homesickness: 6 things I miss the most

(Para la versión en español, haz click aquí.)

Homesickness is a well-known feeling to me. I often find myself daydreaming about my country and my life in Peru, but then I wake up and realize that I am surrounded by other people, who don’t seem very familiar and speak a language that is only noise to me; all I do is show a big smile and nod (who knows what I am agreeing to!).

It is not that I have not accepted my life here, but sometimes I just wonder about what my family might be doing at this exact moment, how big my friends’ kids should be by now or if that bar I used to go remains open. Wherever you go and whatever you do, it is impossible to leave behind important moments and people who took part of your life for so long. All immigrants/expats go through this, it is normal to feel homesick once in a while.

I made a personal list about the 6 things I miss the most about my home country. I am sure you will identify with some of them and I hope you share your list as well. This list is not in order of importance, I just wrote things as they came up.

Note: In this post, you won’t find food as one of the things I miss the most. It is not that I don’t miss the magnificent food from my country, but products to prepare Peruvian food are becoming more and more available in Europe. (Why Peruvian food is the next big thing?. For the foodies, you can check this article/video about Peruvian food.)

1. Family events and special occasions 

This year has been like a baby boom among my friends and family members; it might be the 30s. Almost everybody decided that 2013 was a great year to make babies and I am very happy for them. What makes me sad is that I couldn’t be with them to enjoy such an incredible moment in their lives.

CC Image courtesy of Paula on Flickr

Today, one of my best friends is giving birth to a baby boy (his name will be Benjamin). I wish I could be at the clinic waiting with her family for the ‘It’s a healthy boy!’ and cheer together. I know that if I would be there, I would have a big balloon that says ‘Welcome home’ (I would have preferred one with ‘Welcome to the World’, but I don’t think they sell those).

However, there are other occasions less cheerful, like my grandma’s funeral. I am not a big believer of this kind of ceremonies, but I think it would have been good to be present, not only to say goodbye to my grandma (my second mother) but to show my support to my family. I would write about it later, because it is still too soon for me. My point here is that living abroad gives you many moments and experiences that will make you a better person, and at the same time, you miss so many things back home. I wish I could be there and here.

2. Starry sky

When I was around 9 years old, I used to tell my parents I was going to bed and turned off the lights in my bedroom. Once I was sure they also went to bed, I opened my window and looked at the sky and tried to count the stars. Since then, I have not seen a sky so starry as the one I used to contemplate during my summer nights in Peru. Sometimes I thought I saw UFOs but I didn’t tell anybody, because I knew my friends would laugh at me, and I am happy now I didn’t. That would have cost me some friends in primary school.

Starry Sky – CC Image courtesy of Jason Barnette Photography on Flickr

As I became older, starry skies were my companion when I had bonfires at the beach, I went on camping trips and I walked through my city’s Old Town. I really miss all of that!!.

This summer has been particularly good in the Netherlands, but it has not yet provided those dreamy summer nights I enjoyed from my window in Peru (sigh…).

3. Friends knocking on your door

When it comes to social rules, Peru can surprise you or shock you. One example is knocking on your friends’ door; our social awareness doesn’t tell us that maybe it is too late, that perhaps your friend doesn’t want to be disturbed, that your friend is holding a small family gathering or that your friend simply doesn’t want to talk to you. No, in Peru, you just knock on the door without previous notice.

Who’s at the door? – CC Image courtesy of Mark Wyatt on Flickr

I understand how difficult this is to assimilate for any person who is not from Latin America, specially for Dutch people, who like to plan their days. Most of them carry an agenda everywhere they go (how I dislike the agenda!).

Sometimes I have the idea that things in Peru are way simpler than in Europe, but maybe it is just my homesickness. After 7 years abroad, I have come to miss a friend’s visit out of the blue, which will lead to an invitation to the movies or a nice chat after a long day at work. Spontaneity is so much better than planning something weeks ahead. How do you know how you would feel in 2 weeks? How do you know if you are going to be alive?!!.

4. That ‘touchy’ feeling

O.K., let me explain. As a Latin American, I was born with the ‘ability’ to express my emotions and feelings with my hands and arms, which creates the need for some space around me when I am talking as well as the need to touch people during my conversations. In Peru, family members, friends or co-workers are constantly touching each other in the head or arms and giving hugs for no apparent reason. Emotions need an outlet, so we become loud talkers, hand talkers and very ‘touchy’.

Free hugs is what we need! - CC Image courtesy of M Hooper on Flickr

Free hugs is what we need! – CC Image courtesy of M Hooper on Flickr

Physical contact is a basic need, and for those skeptics, here is a good article about it.

I miss laughing really hard and leaning on my friend’s shoulder, I miss greeting people with a kiss on the cheek (not total strangers, but friends or co-workers) and I miss spontaneous hugs. I personally don’t think that Europeans are cold and distance, they are just shy while Latin Americans are more extrovert and social.

5. The summer

I know what you are all thinking: ‘Who doesn’t miss that?’, but first let me tell you that I come from the North Coast of Peru and my parents’ house is only 10 minutes’ drive from the beach. Yes, I was a lucky girl while growing up. The beach and the GOOD summers were part of my life for 25 years, and I regret I didn’t appreciate them more while I was there.

View of Huanchaco-Peru

View of Huanchaco-Peru, my beach.

Summers in the Netherlands are very different from the ones in Peru. The weather doesn’t give its best and the country feels like a desert, I mean, a lot of people go on holiday to Spain, France or Italy, the ones with the good summers. It is the complete opposite to what happens in Peru, because there people don’t really go to other countries when they have holidays (although the economy is increasing a lot and there are more possibilities now). Peruvians enjoy what they have around; it could be a day at the beach, camping in the valley or a small city trip, but not for a long period of time.

Summers in Peru can be very hot and provide you with immense energy and happy thoughts. Besides, there are a lot of events and parties to go to, you feel that the streets are alive. And that is what I miss, streets full of people and the sun shinning on my back.

It also happens that summer begins in December, so when New Year’s Eve comes, it really marks a new beginning in your life. Everybody starts the new year with good weather, and that is already a good omen.

6. Taking taxis

This one has to do with how lazy I used to be in Peru. I took taxis to go everywhere, and not because I was rich. Taxis in Peru are very cheap, and I had the tendency to run late very often. Now that I live in a country that has more bikes than people, I had no other choice but to cycle to run errands, to work, to a party, etc.

Ian Glover

Taking a taxi in Peru is never a problem – CC Image courtesy of Ian Glover on Flickr

Taking a taxi in Amsterdam is not as easy as it used to be in Peru; first, you are lucky if you find one and second, I need to win the lottery first to allow myself such a luxury.

I am happy that I am not so lazy anymore and I am very grateful for the better legs I got from biking; it is excellent exercise and your heart will be pumping for many years. Nonetheless, I miss the glamour of taking a taxi, specially if it rains, it snows, it is cold or it is windy. Hmmm…I think I miss it more than I thought.

So, there you go, these are the things I miss the most from my home country. What about you?


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“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” Nelson Mandela

“No hay nada como volver a un lugar que no ha cambiado, para darte cuenta de cuanto has cambiado tú.” Nelson Mandela

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La ‘luna de miel’

(For the English version, see The ‘honeymoon’ stage)

El choque cultural tiene muchas caras, así como el talento para encubrir sus diferentes etapas maliciosas, por ejemplo, la etapa de la ‘luna de miel’. De acuerdo con algunas definiciones, el choque cultural tiene 4 etapas: la luna de miel, el conflicto, la negociación y la aceptación. Basándome en mi propia experiencia, puedo decir que estas etapas son correctas. Hace unos 7 años experimenté la primera etapa con mucha euforia y alegría y es por eso que hoy me gustaría compartir mis experiencias durante mi ‘luna de miel’.

La etapa de la 'luna de miel'

La etapa de la ‘luna de miel’

Una vez instalada en mi nuevo hogar inglés, todo parecía perfecto. Ya había conocido a mis nuevos compañeros de la escuela donde iba a trabajar, había memorizado el número del autobús que debía tomar para ir al trabajo y al centro de la ciudad, había descubierto como utilizar el lavavajillas (algo que solo había visto en las películas) y había observado cómo se debía lavar la ropa con la lavadora – no es que no existieran lavadoras en Perú, pero mi madre se había rehusado a comprar una hasta hace poco…creo que esperó a que sus hijos se fueran de la casa para hacerlo.

Durante los primeros meses en Inglaterra pasé por un estado de euforia y éxtasis. Todo me parecía maravilloso, sí, ¡maravilloso!. No tenía ningún pensamiento negativo en la cabeza; todas las personas y las situaciones con las que me cruzaba me ofrecían la oportunidad de experimentar un estado mental fantástico.

Recuerdo un domingo por la tarde cuando estaba en mi nueva habitación organizando algunas cosas y escuché a la hija de mi casera (la dueña de la casa) y sus amigos poner una canción de Juanes. En ese momento bajé las escaleras lo más rápido que pude y les pregunté sorprendida: ‘¿Cómo conocen esta canción?’. Ellos me contestaron que la canción estaba en todas las radios de Inglaterra y que les encantaba. Me emocionó el hecho de que esos niños de 12 años estuvieran escuchando música Latina, mi música. Fue un momento especial entre dos culturas; ellos querían saber el significado de la canción y cómo bailarla y a cambio, se aseguraron de que yo también aprendiera algo, como el significado de ‘chav‘ y el uso de la palabra ‘wicked’ (chevere, chido, guay) en casi todas las frases. Éramos una familia feliz.

Los meses que siguieron mi llegada a Inglaterra estuvieron llenos de descubrimientos; todo sucedía muy rápido y al mismo tiempo. Mi despertar al ‘viejo’ continente estuvo compuesto por nuevos sonidos, expresiones faciales, lluvia (¡muchísima lluvia!), comida, olores, etc. Una de las primeras cosas que aprendí fue que no debería gritar cada vez que estaba en el carro/coche y veía otro venir por el lado equivocado de la carretera (En el Reino Unido, las personas conducen por el lado equivocado…quiero decir…por el lado izquierdo de la carretera). Además de eso, tuve que acostumbrarme a no inclinarme para darle un beso a la gente en la mejilla cada vez que los saludaba, como se acostumbra en Latinoamérica. Eso fue muy difícil de ‘desaprender’, yo tenía toda la disposición y la costumbre de hacerlo, pero un suave apretón de mano siempre me recordaba que las costumbres allí eran diferentes y es así que volvía a la realidad.

Mi parte favorita de la ‘luna de miel’ era viajar. Se suponía que mi estancia en Inglaterra iba a ser corta (8 meses) y por eso, aproveché cualquier tiempo libre que tenía para viajar por los alrededores. En los primeros tres meses en el Reino Unido, tuve la suerte de visitar Oxford, Escocia y Londres.

La primera impresión que me llevé de esos lugares fue mágica; mi memoria se ha encargado de guardar cada momento en un lugar especial, en esa época de mi inocencia. Y es que eso es lo que la etapa de la ‘luna de miel’ te hace hacer, te hace ver las cosas a través de un caleidoscopio, lleno de colores y belleza.



El primer albergue/hostal en mi vida...Oxford

El primer albergue/hostal en mi vida…Oxford

Big Ben

Mi primera impresión del Big Ben

ADVERTENCIA: los primeros meses o años que pasas en el extranjero siempre son los mejores. Nuestra memoria borrosa puede engañarnos y hacernos creer que todo era perfecto.

Sin embargo, la etapa de la ‘luna de miel’ nos da coraje; el deseo de descubrir un nuevo país y nos vuelve curiosos y hambrientos por más. Esta es la mejor etapa del choque cultural (al menos algo bueno tenía que salir de todo esto) porque perdernos en nuestro camino a casa nos da la oportunidad de conocer nuestro nuevo barrio, conocer a otras personas puede ayudarnos a encontrar a un nuevo o mejor amigo, probar otras comidas puede hacer que nuestra boca experimente sabores que ni siquiera sabíamos que existían y ver algo por primera vez nos hace pensar: ‘¿Dónde he estado todo este tiempo?’.

¡Disfruta de tu ‘luna de miel’ al máximo y si ya lo hiciste, guarda estos momentos especiales para siempre!


The ‘honeymoon’ stage

Culture shock has many faces and the talent to disguise its mean ways with the so-called ‘honeymoon’ stage. According to the general definition of culture shock, there are four stages: the excitement (or honeymoon), the withdrawal, the adjustment and the enthusiasm. Since I have already gone through the first stage but I am still going back and forth among the other stages, I would like to share my experience during my ‘honeymoon’ stage.

Once I was settled in my new English home, things were looking pretty good to me. I had already met my new co-workers at the school where I was going to work, I had learnt which bus to take to go to work and the city, I had found out how to use a dishwasher (which I had only seen in movies), and I had observed how I should wash my clothes in a laundry machine –  don’t get me wrong, laundry machines exist in Peru for a long time, but my mother had refused to buy one until recent years…did she wait for her kids to leave home?.

During the first months in England, I was in a state of euphoria and ecstasy. Everything looked marvelous, yes! marvelous!. There was no single negative thought in my mind. Every person and situation that I came across would take me to an exceeding state of mind.

I remember one Sunday afternoon that I was upstairs, organizing my new room, when I heard my landlord’s daughter and her friends playing a Juanes‘ song on their computer. I ran down the stairs as fast as I could and asked them with surprise: ‘How do you know this song?!’. They told me that it was all over the radio and they really liked it. I was touched by the fact that those 12-year-old kids were listening to Latin music, my music. It was a bonding moment between two cultures. They wanted to know the meaning of the song and how to dance to it. Later that day, they made sure I also learnt something, like what ‘chav‘ means and how to use the word ‘wicked’ for almost every sentence. We were a big happy family.

The months that followed my arrival to England, I started to discover a lot of things, all at the same time. My awakening to the ‘old’ continent included sounds, face expressions, rain (a lot of rain!), food, smells, etc. Some of the things I learnt at the very beginning of my stay was that I shouldn’t scream every time I was in a car and saw another one coming on the wrong side of the road (In the UK, people drive on the wrong…I mean…on the left side of the road). I also had to get used to the idea that I couldn’t jump to people’s faces to give them a kiss on the cheek every time I greeted them, as we usually do in Latin America. That was tough, I had all the predisposition to do so but a gentle handshake would always bring me back to reality.

My favorite part of the ‘honeymoon’ stage was traveling. My stay in England was supposed to be a short one (8 months), therefore, I took advantage of all the free time I had to travel around. In the first three months in the UK, I had the luck to visit Oxford, Scotland and London.



Big Ben

My first impression of the Big Ben

My first hostel..ever! - Oxford

My first hostel..ever! – Oxford

The first impression I had of these places is magical; my memory has preserved every moment in a very special place, in that innocent stage of my life. And this is what the ‘honeymoon’ does to you, it makes you see things through a kaleidoscope, full of colorful patterns, with beauty.

WARNING: the first months or years you spent abroad are always the best; our blurry memory can trick us and make us believe that everything back then was perfect.

Nevertheless, the ‘honeymoon’ stage gives us courage; the desire of discovering a new country makes us curious and hungrier for more. It is the best stage of culture shock (at least something good had to come out of it!) because getting lost on our way home creates the opportunity to know your new neighbourhood, meeting new people can lead us to find a good/best friend, trying new food can make our mouths explode with flavors we didn’t even know they existed and seeing things for the first time can make us wonder: ‘Where the hell have I been all this time?!’.

Enjoy your ‘honeymoon’ stage to the fullest and if you already did, guard those precious moments forever!