Christmas Away from Home

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Those of you who know me will know that I love Christmas. I love everything about Christmas, from the sappy music, the big tree filled with ornaments, to the lights on every street corner. Christmas in my family is a huge deal, filled with traditions and memories which make every year feel like a beautiful snapshot in time.

Family pictures with Santa are always a must

This year will be my first year away from home during Christmas in my entire 23 years of existence because I'm staying in London during the holidays. It's not been easy to realise that I won't spend Christmas eve frantically wrapping presents with my mom while we watch Christmas Vacation. I won't be reading Twas the Night Before Christmas to my younger brothers. I won't wake up Christmas morning to a full stocking, excited gift opening, and an epic Christmas breakfast.

I guess it all comes back to my family. I'm really close to my family- I always have been. I know a lot of people my age don't really get along with their parents or feel obligated to spend some time with them at Chrismas, but for me it's the exact opposite. It's a weird day if I haven't talked to my mom at least once; even if it's just a simple text and not a Facetime or sitting down for dinner. I talk to my family about every detail of my life, they give me advice and support me, and Christmas is an amalgamation of how close we are and all the traditions we've built for each other.

Christmas has also taken on a special meaning for me since my dad passed away three years ago. My dad loved Christmas, and he was just as much part of all of these traditions as my mom and brothers. Traditions we built together as a family before he got sick, and traditions we honour him through by continuing on. It feels weird to not be celebrating the way I always did with my dad, the way we always did as a family. I remember one Christmas he actually used white cleaning powder along the bottom of his work boots and walked around our living room from the fireplace so it looked like Santa had been walking around. I remember driving up to Gatlinburg every year and singing The 12 Days of Christmas on repeat until we could do the entire song without messing up. I'll never forget the year he bought himself the 50th Anniversary Edition Monopoly board, one of the only times I remember my parents buying something for themselves. We still use that board every time we play. 

On the other hand, this feels like it's part of growing up. I know that I'm reaching an age where it's normal to branch out and do my own thing and that it doesn't mean I love my family any less. I recently had a thought where I realised that my own mom used to spend every Christmas morning with my grandparents, but she's obviously spent it with us since I can remember. It's a normal part of becoming an adult- branching out from your parents. No one ever tells you that how hard that is though. When you're in school, all you can think about is getting away from your parents and living your own life, but as soon as you move out and have a job and bills and relationships all on your own, you can start to miss all the things that are comfortable to you. Everyone tells you it's hard to be a grown up, but I guess I didn't listen. On some level, I'm not ready to let go of some things, and Christmas is definitely one of those comfortable traditions that I'm clinging onto.

As much as I hate being away from my family, I realise there are new traditions I can build for myself. My life is my own to make of it what I want, so I'm going to try my damnedest to make it interesting. I think some traditions I'm incorporating here in London include- Christmas crackers (which we don't have in America, but I love the paper crowns), drinking mulled wine and walking around the fair, and buying myself a few choice presents just because I can. I've also built myself the ultimate Christmas Jams playlist on Spotify, and I love riding on buses and listening to it while I look out at all the lights on the London streets.

Making this Christmas fun with matching PJ's
I knew Christmas was going to be hard this year without my family, but I never expected myself to be so caught up in the traditions I'm missing out on. I'm excited about my future, and I know that as I grow older I'll build some of my own traditions, but for right now I'm going to reminisce about our past Christmases and cherish the years I have left in the comfort of my traditions. 

Since I am in London for Christmas, I've made a vlog of some of the Christmasy things I've done in the city. Click below to watch, and have Happy Holidays!

What it's like to be sick overseas

Sunday, December 18, 2016

So it is now mid-December, and officially the second time I have been violently ill in a month. Let me start by saying, this is not the first time I have complained about being sick in a foreign country, and it probably won't be the last (actually, god, please don't let me get sick again I've paid my dues). However, I do feel like I can give some unique insight into being sick in a strange place.

From fab to drab in a matter of hours

What sucks worse that being sick in a different country is being sick and having none of your family or friends to take care of you. I'll admit, I'm one of those cry-baby friends who wants to be pampered and taken care of. I will make having a common cold seem like I'm actually laying on my deathbed. Being in a foreign country makes everything seem ten times worse. No one is here to bring me soup? Fluff my pillows? I don't even have a TV to marathon Friends on and have my boyfriend come change the DVD when it's time. It's honestly hell.

Another thing I quickly discovered is the difference in how health care works. Don't get me wrong, health in the UK is amazing, and it's free. However, it is just so different from back home that I usually walk out of the office wondering what just happened. The first time I went was about a month ago. It was the first time I actually got sick since moving here, and it was a walk in clinic that took patients on a first come first serve basis. I was seen within 20 minutes (though I've heard this isn't the norm). I walked into the office, and the doctor had a desk? And I sat behind the desk and just talked to them. Then they came around and checked my lungs and throat, but there wasn't a big table to sit up on. No awkward paper clothes. No rolling chair for the doctors and nurses. I didn't even see a nurse the entire visit. It was bizarre. And at the end they essentially said, 'eh, you've got a cold, come back if it's not better in a few weeks'. At which point I went home to continue my suffering. Alone. 

My second time seeing a doctor here was just a few days ago and it was wildly different. I woke up feeling dizzy and almost passing out, causing a huge panic attack. I called the NHS hotline, which is honestly the most amazing service I have ever heard of and every country should have it. Anyways, after about 10 minutes of talking to me and making sure I wasn't having a heart attack, they booked me an appointment at the closest Urgent Care Centre to my house and told me I could see a doctor 30 minutes later. My mind was blown away. I called an Uber (because honestly who wants to walk to a bus when you're feeling sick), and I went to the office. An hour later (after staring confusedly at the weird desk again), and I was stumbling out in my fever induced hell dream to get my prescriptions and return home to roll into a coma in my bed. 

Overall though, there are things you don't realise are 'comfort' for you when you're sick until you don't have them. For instance, I always drink orange Gatorade when I'm sick. It helps keep me hydrated, and it's what my dad always bought me when I was younger. I associate it with getting better quicker, and I always have it on hand when I'm not feeling well. Of course, Gatorade is impossible to find here. The closest store I know of that sells it is a 30-minute tube ride away, and of course it's the blue kind. I have yet to be successful finding the orange flavour, so I suffer my illness without it.

Everything about living in a city alone becomes all the more daunting when you're sick. Want to eat? You have to walk to the supermarket and then cook it yourself. No one wants to do that. I don't want to do that on a normal day, let alone when I'm sick. So I obviously end up order way too expensive takeout and crying as I look at my bank account while I curse my immune system for doing this to me. 

All I've eaten today and it was delicious

Required to go to class/work? Guess what, you don't have a car- oh no, you have to walk, catch a tube, a bus, and then walk again. And then do it again to get home. I actually had a paper due this past weekend, which I woke up to with it half finished and a temperature of over 38 (100 if you're an F person). It took hours of emails back and forth with professors and sending in proof to get an extension, which I was luckily granted. However, the final straw was when they sent me paperwork to sign for the extension and it needed to be printed. I tried to laugh but I ended up crying because the closest place to print something was a 10-minute walk away and I hadn't even bothered to put on pants that day I felt so horrible. It took me about five minutes to say 'screw it' and e-sign the paper using Microsoft Paint. They didn't even question me on it. 

As you can probably tell, I'm sick of being sick. I feel like Pocohantas when John Smith brought her to England, and I feel like their stupid germs might kill me too. I can't tell if I keep getting sick from the public transport constantly bombarding me with germy people, the stress of my school work, or the dreary England weather, but one thing's for certain, I'm going to continue wallowing and dreaming of a day when I can breathe again without coughing up a lung.

I realise that all of this complaining comes from a very privileged place. I have had amazing opportunities which have allowed me to explore the world and live in one of the most diverse cities in modern history. While being sick sucks, I know there are thousands who suffer every day from chronic illness and illnesses much more severe than a little fever and a sniffle. I thought you would enjoy my little banter about having the head flu all alone here in London, but I am grateful for how healthy I am overall in my life. 

If you want to see more melodramatic ramblings about being sick overseas, you should watch my video about being sick in London below.  

Four Months in London- Where Am I

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

As you may know, I made a huge life decision back in April and decided to move back to London to attempt my Master's degree in Marketing. I've been here for about four months now, so I'm going to give an honest look at moving across the globe on your own. I wish I could say moving here was everything I ever thought it would be. Most of the time, I love the whirl of the city, the never-ending list of things I could do in one of the most culturally diverse places in the world. The reality is that I spend most of my days staring out the window during my hour long commute to class or laying on my couch scrolling through my FaceBook feed. 

Don't get me wrong, I have done some amazing things this year, most of which involve the amazing friend group I've made. I've had parties, gone to concerts, explored shopping malls, and even had a painfully complicated trip home to visit my family. Despite so much good, life here has also been regretfully difficult. It's been constantly questioning myself and my abilities, crying at little things that feel like they should be easy, and trying to find possessions before screaming because I left it in another country. 

One of my friends showed me a theory about a month ago, the 5 Stages of Culture Shock. When I first saw it I laughed, and I thought "I'm not going through culture shock! I already know about the culture here!" However, after looking at it again, I've realised that moving across the world all on my own has affected me more deeply that I could ever have anticipated despite living here for half of last year.

When I moved here last year, it was a dream come true. Fresh out of university, I was working at an internship in a huge city, and living with people all from the same country as me. I went on crazy adventures, and honestly, I didn't have to assimilate for the first 2 months I lived here because everything was taken care of for me. I don't think I was honest with myself about those last three months. It was hard, it was lonely, and it was scary. I've felt for a long time that London is my home, more than I've ever felt in my life, but I also notice that maybe my feelings were painted rosey with a nice dose of romanticism for good measure. 

In light of accomplishing my goal of moving to London for real, here is my experience of culture shock. It may be brutal, but at least I know where I stand and hopefully I'll learn something about myself in the process. 

Stage 1: The Honeymoon Stage

This is when you arrive in a new place and everything is shiny and new. You're pointing out all the differences from back home and you're feeling so 'cultured' and 'enriched' to be somewhere so different. 

I don't think I went through this coming back. Last year, I definitely went to all the museums and saw Big Ben again. I was so excited to experience the culture and hit all the cool tourist spots. Moving back, I sighed as my mom called me and asked if I wanted to go on the London Eye when she visits this summer, internally cringing at the 30 quid I'm going to have to dish out for a giant ferris wheel. I haven't felt that need to go do the tourist stuff, I didn't spend my time giggling about how it's a 'lift' instead of an elevator. I'd done this before, I was ready to dive in and start my new life without the fluff.

Stage 2: The Distress Stage

Ah yes, the stage where all those little differences start to add up and become a big problem. You begin to feel confused and frustrated at how different everything is, and you realise that your support system from back home is completely gone. 

I can easily admit that I hit the distress stage and I hit it hard. I think the defining moment was standing in the supermarket trying to buy food. I was so frustrated because I couldn't find anything in their stupid stores and what they did have wasn't the right brand and wasn't the right flavour, and they called it different names. All in all I kind of had a breakdown. I don't think anyone ever thinks about how all the little minute details matter so much in a day to day life, but it all piles up until you don't want to get out of bed because it feels too overwhelming. 

Stage 3: Re-Integration Stage

You start to have a disdain for your new home, you reject it and begin to feel that everything back home is superior. You feel angry, frustrated, and even hostile to everyone around you, and you wonder why you ever left in the first place. You miss the familiarity of home and feel like you don't belong. 

I would say I'm currently at this stage. Add a stressful school situation into the mix, and I have become bitter and angry at the world for making my life so difficult despite getting everything I wanted. I'm constantly thinking about when I can go visit my family back home, and talking to my roommate about the frustrations of living in a giant city. People stop in the middle of the pavement and I roll my eyes and huff as I move around them. When I think about back home, I wonder why I didn't appreciate how what I had there was so good. 

Stage 4: Autonomy Stage

Finally, the first stage toward acceptance; when you begin to feel like yourself again. You begin to accept the differences and feel like you can to live with them. You feel more confident and better able to cope with problems. You no longer feel isolated; you’re able to look at the world around you and appreciate where you are.

I don't think I'm here fully yet. There are quite few days that I wake up and feel like maybe I'm starting to fully enjoy my life here, but then the following day the train is delayed and I feel like it's destroyed my entire week. I do think I will eventually get there the more I focus on learning and doing things I enjoy with people I get along with, but right now I'm teetering on the edge of simultaneously loving and hating everything around me.  

Stage 5: Independence Stage

You feel yourself again! You embrace the new culture and see everything in a new (hopefully realistic) light. Things start to become enjoyable. You feel comfortable, confident, able to make decisions based on your own preferences and values. You no longer feel alone and isolated.

Being truly independent and feeling like I'm happy and content seems like a distant glimmer. I've only been here four months, so I'm trying to give myself time to figure things out and hopefully get there. I genuinely don't how long this will take, or if it ever will, but til then I'm working on taking it one day at a time. 

So, if you're here wondering if you should take the plunge and move across the globe by yourself- I still say go for it but you've been warned. It's hard work. You constantly doubt yourself and feel torn about whether you did the right thing. I'm glad I moved here, I don't regret it at all, but I can't lie to myself and pretend it's butterflies and rainbows all the time. Living here is just here. You still feel stress and anxiety, the things in your life that affected you before still affect you in another place, just now you have to navigate it on your own. This experience has for sure given me independence; I know that I'm capable of anything and that I know how to figure stuff out. I wouldn't trade that for anything, but I still think of my hometown and feel a pang in my chest for wildly different reality I've thrown myself into.

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