I live in Paris now. I have a sixth floor walkup with a beautiful view. I work as an au pair watching an adorable baby boy whose parents are lovely and intelligent people. I live in Montmartre, five minutes walk from the Sacre Couer and there’s an incredible fromagerie right around the corner.
The honest truth is this: part of me really doesn’t want to be here.
It’s the part of me that doesn’t like to be judged, that twinges with sadness at the frustrated and resigned reactions to my jarbled French. The part that doesn’t like to feel self-conscious about wearing sneakers and t-shirts. The part that misses my dog and my dad and brother at home and good American craft brews. The part that, to be perfectly honest, really knows nothing about babies. The part that would like to be able to have a small conversation with the person behind the counter because connecting with strangers is joyous and meaningful and makes the world just a little brighter.
And, well, I can’t do any of that here.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled to be here. But it’s scary. It’s big. It’s new.
I came here on a whim. I’d had a plan but felt like this was an opportunity I couldn’t justifiably turn down.
But now that I’m finally here, I can’t help but ask myself, “Why?”
Of course, I know why. To experience another culture, to learn another language, to see another part of the world, to spend time writing in an amazing place, to see beautiful art and eat delicious food. It’s everything I love and want.
It’s hard to make that leap though, that leap past that part of me that wishes I was home, or at least in Italy because there at least I can talk to people. I’ll get to that point, I know. In my head I know that this will pass, but right now, in the beginning, it’s hard to believe that.
That’s culture shock.
Addendum I wish I didn’t have to make:
To people actually in my real life, don’t misinterpret this. I want to be here. I do love it here most of the time. This is describing my experience of culture shock right now. It’s a temporary psychological phenomenon. Please don’t worry about me.
To people traveling or moving abroad, don’t let this change your mind. Let this inform you for what you might feel later in the first few weeks. Knowledge of it will give you power over it.
To people who have lived abroad for a while, you know what I’m talking about.