At Home on the Road

By Ana Alhoud

“On the road again…I just can’t wait to get on the road again…” -Willie Nelson

Few experiences expose you to the constant movement that Euroculture does. Amongst the careful searches for accommodation, endless negotiations with landlords, costly shipping of suitcases, frequent (un)packing, farewell get-togethers, moving in rituals and eventual redo of the entire process, students abroad are educated about being adaptable in changing situations more than most of the population…but what are we missing in the midst of so much movement?

One of the major lures of Euroculture is its mobility requirement, in which each student is required to study in at least two universities as well as a research/ internship placement. This unique element encourages Euroculture students to not only learn in different environments, but to immerse themselves in many manifestations of lifestyles and cultures. Whether we realize it or not, the mindset we adopt throughout this process is key to succeeding academically as well as growing personally.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs [1], the physiological needs for food, water, safety and warmth must be achieved before embarking on the next steps toward self-realization, a process of growing and developing as a person in order to achieve individual potential. Vedic knowledge concerning the chakras [2] also refer to this critical requirement of basic physical stability, associated with the root chakra [3], as the foundation for the increasingly social aspects of fulfillment that come afterward. For the most part, students abroad technically meet this first level of fulfillment (though Ramen noodles don’t always do the trick), but how do we counter the negative effects of instability [4] when moving so frequently?

Some of us have knicknacks from loved ones, like a homemade blanket or photos of friends and family. For many, Whatsapp and Skype are beyond valuable because they give us the unprecedented ability to instantly speak with loved ones in different countries and time zones. Regardless of the method, there is something we all do to remain anchored to our roots and to combat the homesickness that inevitably rears its nostalgic head.

Nemanja Milosevic, a fellow Euroculturer, says that he finds his “home feeling” in several ways, one being familiarizing himself with life in his new destination. Whether it be learning the local language or simply observing the similarities and differences between a new culture and your own, becoming more familiar with your new surroundings goes a long way in enjoying the most out of it. This leads us to Nemanja’s next tips: be present and pursue your passions no matter where you are. While many of us scour Facebook and local posters to find fun ways to integrate ourselves, it is important to follow through on these interests and hopefully bring some friends along for the ride too. When we are present and engaged in our daily life, the time to ruminate on how much we miss home is reduced. Of course a packed schedule cannot free you entirely from pangs of homesickness, but being excited about the opportunities around you here and now greatly reduce the risk of falling into a pit of despair. When planning your days or weeks, make time for activities that you love to do. Biking, playing music and reading are just some examples of passions one can pursue no matter if they are at home or somewhere entirely new.

Continuity is cultivated in the knicknacks we bring with us. The study of semiotics [5] teaches us that our reality is made up of the associations of the symbols we see; as such, the physical reminders of home are just as important as our mental representations of it.

Ariane Takyi, another fellow Euroculturer, recreates her idea of home with a long string of fairy lights that lend a soft glow to every room she occupies. Another ritual Ariane takes with her is buying a plant as soon as she is moved into her new place. “There’s something soothing about caring for something else as a way of caring for myself,” says Ariane, reminding us that showing love is also an important part of being on the road.

Zygmunt Bauman, a prominent postmodern thinker, proposes that identity is a construct that depends partially on the cultural values of the times. In a world inundated with fleeting social media fads and no-strings-attached dating apps, it is safe to say that the nomadic identity of Euroculture students is a perfect reflection of the ideals of our no-commitment social reality. One might assume that it’s difficult to build lasting friendships with the ever-present knowledge that we will be leaving just as quickly as we arrived. It might seem reasonable to avoid investing a lot of emotion into friendships that could easily fizzle the moment we depart…

Or perhaps this same knowledge gives us the incentive to truly seize the moment and approach those who you might never speak to in a more mundane setting. Maybe a Euroculture student’s understanding of how fleeting time is prompts us to dive headfirst into the many bonds we as a community forge all over the world. In many ways, the Euroculture experience teaches us how to bring bits of home with us everywhere we go. Moreover, the unique experiences we share during these confounding 2 years allow us to create a home apart from the homes we already know.

Homesickness is natural. There are going to be days when all we want to do is curl up in our childhood bed and be surrounded by the wonderfully familiar and routine aspects of life. Luckily we live in a time where accessing these elements is easier than ever before, even if a video chat is the closest we can come to them for the time being. As our personal rituals and coping mechanisms [6] demonstrate, we have the ability to adapt to the new and strange by carrying that which is familiar with us and using it to reimagine the very spaces we find ourselves in. In doing so, we make the world that much smaller…we make the world our home.

Above all, it is important to keep in mind how extraordinary the Euroculture experience is. What we encounter is rare and something that ultimately gives us more perspective on what it means to be human in the circle of life. Relish the experiences, revelations and relationships these two years bring. In the future, when we are comfortably complacent in the stability that eventually manifests, these will be the days we look back on and say, “I wish I could do that again.”

Featured picture: Victor Camilo, Flickr.

Sources:

[1] Goswami, Shyam Sundar. 1999. Layayoga: The Definitive Guide to the Chakras and Kundalini. Rochester,VT: Inner Traditions.

[2] https://www.tokenrock.com/explain-chakras-11.html

[3] A Theory of Human Motivation. Maslow, A. H. Psychological Review, Vol. 50(4), Jul 1943, 370-396 https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fh0054346

[4] http://academic.udayton.edu/jackbauer/Readings%20595/Fujita%2005%20happy%20set%20point%20copy.pdf

[5] Subculture: The Meaning of Style by Dick Hebdige (1979)

[6] https://www.gooverseas.com/blog/how-to-deal-with-culture-shock-while-studying-abroad

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