It’s the phase of the adjustment period that I always dread. People who study cross-cultural adaptation often say it is within the period of about three months that some sort of mini-crisis happens. Everything about the new country stops looking beautiful and instead one begins to notice all the things that annoy you, or you find yourself constantly comparing things to your native land. Homesickness kicks in, and you begin to ask yourself: “Why am I here?”
Thanks be to God, I’ve not been here three months yet, although I think this week marks my first time feeling blue. Maybe I’m going through these adjustment phases more quickly because I’ve lived overseas quite a bit before (I’ve only been in Nicaragua less than two months!). Distracted today, my mind wandered to the close friends and family I miss; the cool fall weather and coming of winter in the Midwest; cheddar cheese; the ability to fully participate in erudite conversations; and going for walks in parks without tons of trash, black clouds of fume spewing out of passing buses every ten minutes.
Once, while I was on a study-abroad semester in Egypt with 18 other students, this phase of adjustment hit all of us students. We began to consistently talk about missing peanut butter, fresh green vegetables, even Wheaties and homemade granola. It became hard to mention any food without opening the faucet to a twenty-minute discussion about what foods we were going to eat first when we returned home for Christmas break. Dreaming about food is just one example of how we coped with the harsh reality of culture shock and being forced to either adjust or drown in the stress.
I was under more cultural-adjustment stress in Egypt than I’ve felt here in Nicaragua. Coming with a strong base in the language has helped immensely, as have the various support networks I have around me (Sam, the staff at the CCBN, the Volunteer Missionary Movement staff/missioners, my home church-family). But, whatever place I’m in, I always crave close friendships and a strong sense of community.
Today was a rougher day, with some mental crying out to God, and some actual tears when I talked to my mom on the phone. My mom started reading to me from Psalm 42:
1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
Later, after eating my daily beans and tortilla with Sam, I went around the corner to buy more minutes for my cellphone. A chavalo (guy) my age named Ariel, who’ve I’ve made friends with, introduced me to two of his friends. They were sitting outside on the cement porch in front of their house, and soon Salvadora, the mother of one, came and joined us. Before I knew it, almost an hour had passed—chatting about our lives, asking one another questions, and laughing together. I already got an invitation to Christmas dinner with Salvadora and her family, and even asked her if she could teach me how to cook some Nicaraguan dishes.
In the pangs of homesickness that will inevitably emerge, I am reassured anew that God is listening to my thirsty soul. When home-sick, I am welcomed into a home. Home-welcomed, I receive God’s love.