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I have sooooOoOoooOOOO much I want to share with you guys about these past few months. I’m in serious overload, almost to the point that I don’t know where to start. There isn’t a day that passes without some scenario that makes me think I GOTTA TELL THE KIDS AT HOME! We’ve had some big adventures, that I want to write down and put photos to memories and itineraries. Plus, day to day thoughts, observations and insights on life and traveling in Europe. But first things first, we are living here, in Szczecin, Poland. Make no mistake, this is not a vacation. Getting settled here has been, and continues to be, a lot of work. Living the Polish life is quite different, new, and exciting, but fundamentally the same, and extremely normal in the day to day. I keep saying everything is the same. But different. I’ve been drinking from the fire hose (as they say) these past few months. So before I hash out the fun adventures and exploration, a few (hundred) words on adjustment. Likely for my own mental health, but also your insight.
When I start to feel like the world is getting uncomfortably small, I will sometimes look at a map and remember there are sooooo many places I’ve never, ever heard of. It instantly feels big again. Bigger than I can wrap my head around, even. I’ve always been fascinated with maps and I like to think this curiosity has made me fairly geographically savvy. Yet, staring me in my face, will be an entire country or million soul-strong city I have never heard of. Lives being lived in a place, under a government, with a culture and history all their own that I never even knew existed. Its a humbling reminder of how vast and infinitely unique life is. I mean, yes, there are many, many places in the U.S. that I have never heard of. I’ve even ended up living in a few of them. But still, (for the most part) the culture and government and language are the same. Had I heard of Poland? Yes, of course. Was Szczecin ever on my radar? Heck no it was not. It makes the world feel big in a whole new way.
I can’t say I’ve ever truly felt homesick before. Usually whatever I had been up to was exciting, familiar, or close enough, that my adventuresome spirit carried me right passed any longing for home. But I’ve felt it creep in a few times recently. Of course, having my husband, boys and the familiarity of our furniture and worldly possessions helps. But still. We sure aren’t in Kansas anymore…we moved away from there three and a half years ago, ha. I don’t like the phrase “culture shock”. A shock would indicate a jolt, or something sudden, right? I think a more accurate descriptor would be “culture fog”. At first its all kind of exciting, romantic and novel. The honeymoon period. You’re in love with the exotic food, the foreign architecture and charming phrases spoken in another language. Then after a few days, I feel like I ease in to a kind of haze. Stuck in a fog where I can’t understand anything outside of my own thoughts. Conversations around aren’t comprehensible. The radio is gibberish. Announcements better not be important because if there’s a fire I wouldn’t know it until I smelled smoke. Business and road signs can be guessed at, but never fully understood. Grocery runs are overwhelmingly confusing. I end up coming home with a surprise pack of vegan hot dogs and always missing a few things on my list. I’m caught off guard when little old ladies take the liberty of pulling up the blanket over the stroller to have a stern talk with my fussy baby underneath, then scold me, for my fussy baby! My personal space is invaded while standing in various lines. iTunes tells me my movie will be uploaded and ready to watch sometime next week, on our European internet that is just a biiit slower. And I realize, this is going to take some adjustment. I don’t know, maybe this is just me.
It’s all good, though. I knew there would be challenges and I didn’t expect it to be the same. You know what they say, life would be boring if we were all the same. I am fascinated by the spice our differences add. And, the fog is lifting as we slowly, steadily, add a more words to our Polish vocabulary, learn our way around town, make new friends, get to know our neighbors, and adjust to the cultural differences and ways of life in Poland. Yet, despite our acclimation to the differences, the thing that is lifting the fog the fastest is the constant reminder that we humans hold a few things in common. The more we get around, and the more we settle in, the more I realize, no matter how big and unknown this world is, even in the places I’ve never, ever heard of, in cultures and populations I didn’t know existed; we all fiercely love our children, want to have fun and be happy, we love to eat and drink and feel warm and secure. There are so many ways to live life. I always get caught up in my own way. Yet, no matter how foreign a life may seem, at the root of it, we are way more alike than a lot of us would realize.
The more we travel as a family, I realize that parenthood is one of life’s great equalizers. Children are precious everywhere. Three-year-olds are universally difficult. A Swedish mother recently admitted that three was a difficult age. If a Swedish three year old is difficult, then I feel like they all must be. Polish, German, Danish children- they all throw tantrums too. I’ve seen it. Parents everywhere are in it together. I’m so glad to be experiencing this adventure abroad as a mother. The kindness of strangers runs deep when it comes to kids. So many have offered treats, assisted me with lifting the bike trailer around a tricky spot in the sidewalk, physically picked up and carried my three year old off the tram while I followed with the baby in the stroller, while on a solo outing. They’ve chased me down to return a shoe that had fallen off a half block back and told me my children are beautiful. I usually respond “Nie mowie po polsku”. My preface warning that I do not speak Polish, when anyone tries to strike up conversation. But they smile, wave and shake my tiny boys’ hands and I understand. I want to hug my preschoolers’ teachers on the daily as they, through the ever present language barrier, warmly welcome my hesitant son to their classroom each morning. Parenthood is an equalizer. Kindness is universal.
I guess all this to say, the world can feel small in this day of instant, constant media, direct flights and video chat. But it can still feel really, really big. For me right now, its a little bit of both. When it swings too far in one direction, and gets a little overwhelming, or seems a bit scary, isolating, or strange, I’m going to try to remember our fundamental similarities. Everyone wants to be loved, shown kindness, laugh, have fun, a full belly and a warm place to dwell. Through these, no matter how deep the fog, no matter how far out of my comfort zone, I will know that my neighbors aren’t so different from me and I will always be able to find the familiarity and comfort of home.
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