Regardless of where you go, new places always present a strange feeling. Everything looks new, all/most of the faces are new, and there is an indistinguishable feeling of unfamiliarity that runs through your mind and body. I remember when I left for college I felt this way, and I especially felt this way coming to Uganda. Again, I have never “lived abroad” before, nor have I even left North America. This place was so different from anything I had ever experienced before. The people, the landscape, nothing could compare to the small rural towns I have spent the last 22 years in. Regardless of the intensity of the unfamiliarity, the day comes when you stop feeling like a “guest.” Faces stop looking like strangers and buildings stop becoming images and gain some type of spatial quality in your life. Only three weeks after my arrival, Uganda is rapidly gaining familiarity; it is starting to feel a little like home.
When you live abroad for the first time, everyone tells you how hard it is going to be to adjust. They may tell you how difficult it is going to be to interact with the population, or maybe the many problems you will have with eating, drinking, shopping, etc. Everyone warns you about the culture shock you will experience your first few weeks and ways to acclimate as quickly as possible. This is especially true for those of us who chose spend our first time abroad in a developing country, especially in the middle of Africa.
But what about of us that don’t feel this way? What if we don’t get worried before we leave, and we instantly feel connected to where a land we have never stepped foot on before?
At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about this, how have I so quickly acclimated to someplace that is incomparable to anyplace I have ever been, let alone lived? No, I still don’t understand how I am supposed to grocery shop and I don’t know that I could ever get used to the rough 1+ drives to work, but right now Kampala is exactly where I feel like I am supposed to be.
I remember before I left speaking to others about how I was relatively unconcerned with leaving. I didn’t anticipate culture shock nor a huge adjustment. That is not to say I won’t miss my family and friends, and maybe this is because my stay has a deadline, but I still feel that it should not have been this easy… I am halfway around the “world,” but I feel incredibly close to home. Then I realized, I am.
I believe we give space too much credit sometimes. We often wonder “how can we ever understand ‘them’ ” “they are so different than us” and so we go on with our days, forgetting the connections we have with each other. And I think the obvious connection is through technology and its ability to bring us together, but I am starting to believe it is much more than that. Yes, I am in the middle of Africa. Yes, I sometimes am presented with language barriers and drastically different habits that guide my daily interactions. But so what? It doesn’t matter if I am in Ohio of Kampala, each day people around me wake up and try to make their life a little better. We all actively pursue happiness and in the end, the greater good for all. We all share that, every one of us. Generally, we all have a relatively similar moral compass that guides our relationships and makes us human. Okay, some may be a little off track, thinking guns and ethnic cleansing are the best ways to shape the world, but don’t forget what a small percent of the population this is.
So why am I not homesick? Why don’t I feel any culture shock? Because there is not all that much to be “shocked” about. Yea we are all different, and that is what makes the world so incredible. Our lives and stories will all take different paths, but at the end of the day we are all connected. Regardless of the miles, when you realizes oceans and land masses mean nothing as long as you are with other fantastic people, anyplace can feel like home.