The Guide To Experiencing Something You’ve Never Experienced, or, The Guide To Being Brave
Warning: this post contains more language than my usual writings
It was 3:30am UK time and I was sitting in a new bed, wide awake, with a slight stomach ache and tears rolling down my face. I knew that crying would be a part of change, but I couldn’t quite figure out how I was feeling. In the height of my restlessness I thought through all of the emotions. It wasn’t quite sadness and it wasn’t quite joy. It wasn’t regret or excitement. It wasn’t despair or anxiety. I stayed up for most of the night trying to calculate, decipher, and articulate the exact changes I was going through. After a night of practically no sleep I went about my next day running some errands and coming back to bed early. I sat awake, once again, and pondered this experience I had the previous night. Quite suddenly, it occurred to me that I have never experienced moving to a new country before, which would explain why I felt very out of touch with my words. I did as any Type A writer would do and created a guide for myself to follow over the next few weeks, so that I could at least feel like I have some control.
Always say yes.
A few months ago my supervisor from Our Family Services gave me this advice over dinner. She told me when she moved abroad for the Peace Corps she didn’t know anyone and experienced some intense culture shock. She knew if she said “yes” to everything she was invited to, she would eventually figure out what she liked, what she didn’t like, where to go, what to wear, how to act, etc. So, I have been saying “yes” more often than usual. At a gathering with other students from the US, I met two other American gals who invited me to tour the libraries. I said yes and we’ve now hung out almost every day the past week (and one is from Cleveland, what a small world!).
2. Remind yourself you are brave and loved even if you don’t feel like it.
In the weeks leading up to my move, everyone kept telling me I was brave. While they probably really did mean it honestly, I perceived it more as a small talk centerpiece. I figured people have to say that because it is quite out of the ordinary from where I come from. When I eventually did move, I felt the weight of their words with me. In the first week of being here, half my thoughts were “ok you’re f**king crazy” and half were “ok you’re f**king awesome.” In intense moments of loneliness, I started to remind myself of the things people have been telling me for months: I am brave and I am loved. When I remind myself of these two things, nothing seems too hard, stressful, or far away.
3. Find a friend with a common experience.
This is absolutely easier said than done. Once I made sure my basic need were met, I tried to go on a friend frenzy to meet as many people as I could. My approach to this was pretty similar to throwing noodles at a wall to seeing if one sticks. Aware that I am an outgoing, social being who needs friends to verbally process with, I got crackin’ on finding other people just as weird as me. Like I mentioned before, I ended up meeting two American girls who I happen to have a lot in common with. I welcomed these friends graciously, knowing that it might be easier for me to have American friends first before I try and branch out. However, in just a weeks’ time I’ve managed to take small steps in meeting people outside of my identities. Just today I met a woman in my Masters orientation who moved here from Bangladesh to study refugee narratives and propaganda in contemporary literature. Not only was I captivated by the level of conversation we shared, but I was thoroughly impressed with her self-proclaimed rebellious interests and badass-ness.
4. Set a small routine.
For the past year I grew comfortable in the steady routine of JV living, so attempting to move into a new place with new tasks and new people felt very chaotic. I didn’t realize I needed routine until I didn’t have one. In the first few days I decided to implement small routines for myself, such as strict bedtimes and coffee hours, just to have a schedule. I am no psychologist, but I’m pretty sure these kinds of routines help people become more comfortable in uncomfortable situations.
5. Ask yourself why you’re uncomfortable.
In my JV life I was constantly challenged to questions discomfort and I find that valuable in moving to a new place. Asking myself why I feel uncomfortable has often lead to me to feel more settled. Recent answers have been something like: “Because I don’t have a familiar space to rest” or “because I don’t have someone to talk to here.” This being said, there are many instances where discomfort is a sign of power, prejudice, or imbalance. It is wise to recognize the differences in discomforts and assess them accordingly. Even though my answers to this question helped me realize that I am only human, I also am aware that they are indeed indicators of my privileges and blessings.
6. Do something really silly.
Last Wednesday my housemate invited me to go with him to an Oktoberfest-themed bar because it was student night. Following the first rule for myself, I immediately agreed. After a getting-to-know-you conversation over chicken and fries, he took me to Bierkeller. We walked inside to see EVERYONE dancing and drinking on tables, truly turning up on a Wednesday night. The two of us got unreasonably cheap beer and sat in the corner to people watch. While I did think all the freshers dancing was a little bit ridiculous, I was secretly a bit envious. But not to worry, after a few drinks the two of us got on a table and ended up singing a 5 minute Grease tribute together. I felt really silly and really at home.
7. Be gentle.
I’ve found it helpful to remind myself to be gentle to myself and gentle to others. At an international student orientation we were advised not to hug anyone since that type of greeting is against British culture. While I have (sadly) followed this rule, I’ve found ways to show gentle friendliness to others, such as an affirming playful touch on the shoulder or a joking nudge. It sounds a bit a silly, but human contact always helps me feel gentle, connected, and human.
8. Hydrate or die-drate.
Two summers ago my CHWC co-worker and friend would always shout this at the campers as they left to go paint houses in the blazing sun. Even though it seemed a bit frivolous to me at first, I’ve reminded myself that drinking water and consuming nutritional foods will always help me feel better and stay feeling that way. A little bit of water goes a long way.
9. Take yourself out.
In my first official weekend in the city I was excited to go out and explore the town. It wasn’t until 8pm on Saturday night that I realized I didn’t have anyone to do this with. So, I did what I usually do and went to a local bar by myself. This secret little find is a coffee bar/book hub/music venue that seems to attract the true hipsters of Leeds. I got a cider, read some local poetry, people-watched, and got chicken tenders at a local takeaway. Feeling a bit sad from lack of social interaction, I decided to watch Netflix and dance around my room to Hayley Kiyoko. It ended up being a fantastic night. [As a side note, the bar had an adjoining thrift store of only university sweatshirts from North American universities. Apparently it’s a cool and ironic thing to wear an OSU sweatshirt here?!]
10. Make the first move.
Like I mentioned earlier, my friend-making tactics in times of need are fairly aggressive. However, I believe that if you meet the universe halfway, she will never disappoint you in making a little magic happen. Not only have I sought out community and campus events, but I’ve found that if I want to meet others, I have to introduce myself and bring a touch of vulnerability to the conversation. On Sunday I made the first move and attended All Hallows: an inclusive, accepting Christian church founded in community-forming and social justice. As part of their sermon series, they had the congregation break into groups based on geographical location so that we can get to know each other better. I met some pretty cool women who happen to live right by me. After the service, I spoke with many interesting and loving people while shopping at their regular fair trade sale. I also learned that they have regular hot meals throughout the week for anyone in the community. It brings together people from every corner of the city to share in the breaking of the bread. Needless to say, I left knowing I would be back.
On Wednesday I attended an international students’ club through the University Chaplaincy where I made many first moves in making connections. After casual socializing, we split into groups to answer questions provided by the campus ministers. I found myself listening to perspectives on heating systems, natural resources, and God from guys and gals from different parts of China, a guy from Ireland, and a guy from Bulgaria. We all seemed to get along very well and, of course, by the end of the conversation I made the first moves of exchanging contact information. While this has sometimes felt like hitting on people (although, I’ve never asked for someone’s number in that way HAH), I’ve learned that I’m fairly good at initiating friendship and community. [humorous side note comment: maybe if I applied myself like this in my romantic life I would actually have one]
To sum up the past 2 weeks of my move, life has been extremely out of the ordinary and extremely freeing. Everything is different, but I somehow find a strange comfort in that. While some of the notes on this guide are more lighthearted than others, I find them all to be essential in life’s big transitions. Like always, I want to thank you for reading and promise you that my blog will be more regular this go around.
Peace and love,
PS. Just for fun, here are some songs I’m into recently (by artists who are 100% worthy of support):
I Know A Place by MUNA
Human by dodie
Crush by Tessa Violet
South London Forever by Florence + The Machine