Friday, August 3, 2012

Why You Need to Get Away from Your Getaway

Once you've made the move abroad and settled in for a year or so, you may be thinking, "I've got this down.  I've got Skype, I found out where to get my favorite cereal, and now that they've opened Pinkberry here I don't care if I ever see my hometown again!" You seem pretty sure of yourself. You've finally adapted. No more a stranger, you have arrived. No longer are you an unsuspecting foreigner who gets tricked into paying 50 pounds for a keychain with a plastic pyramid hanging off of it. With your newfound (over)confidence, you smugly take your visiting friends to Khan El Khalili and bask in the glory of snagging 10 keychains for 5 pounds. Your friends will return home and tell your tale. You've made the leap. You are a legend. And to prove that you've made it, you may foolishly claim that you don't need "home" anymore. Sounds like a well-meaning statement. Well, let me take a moment to be condescending and tell you why you are so very wrong.

When you first left home, you may have been looking to get away, to escape the ordinary. Hopefully, you found what you were looking for. But after a while, you may realize that you need an escape from your escape. Why, you may ask? Well, there are plenty of good reasons, but as I myself am busy escaping my escape, I will list just a few here.

1. Food - This would definitely be at the top of my sister's list. Depending on where you've moved, you may find that your dining choices, and even quality, leave a lot to be desired. A trip home will give you a chance to indulge in all your favorite foods. No, there is no need to feel guilty about cheating on the falafel sandwiches that you've been so loyal to. They have enough fans.

2. Friends - Remember those people who thought you were crazy (in a loving way, of course) when you left home? Well, they miss you. Reconnecting with old friends helps you refuel and re-energize. Even if you've made friends in your new country, there is a big part of your life that no one there will ever know or understand. Don't you want to go "where everybody knows your name"?

3. Sanity - For the sake of your mental health, you need to get out every once in a while. Particularly if you're living in what they now call a developing country, to be politically correct, "every once in a while" is more often than you think. Signs that you need a break may include, but are not limited to, the following: becoming irritated when someone actually stops at a traffic signal, deterioration of your language skills in both your native language as well as your new one (At some point, I began to worry that I would become alingual. Yes, that is a real word!), and an intense fascination when overhearing strangers speaking English in public.

4. Fresh Air - You know pollution is bad when you need to go back to LA to get some clean air. Unfortunately, living in Cairo has left many an expat with pesky allergies and other health troubles. It doesn't take long for a newcomer to make friends with his local pharmacist. If you're living in a country with poor air quality, the cost of the plane ticket is well worth that breath of fresh air that awaits you at home.

5. Reality Check - Some expats have a love-hate relationship with their new home. They love it for all its failings, for its stark contrast to the life they knew. They love the way it brings out the fighter in them. But, if this sounds like you, you may have noticed that somewhere along the way unfair comparisons led you to romanticize your former home. Thanks to selective memory, all you can remember is how easy everything used to be. Comments like "In the U.S., I'd never have to wait in a line like this!" or "Don't they know what real ranch dressing tastes like?" become the norm. A quick trip home will remind you that the grass tends to be greener on the other side and, sure enough, you'll soon find yourself "homesick" for that not-so-foreign country.

So, get some fresh air, both literally and figuratively. It'll do you good, I promise. And don't worry, those falafel sandwiches will be waiting for you when you get back.

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