3 Tips for Combating Loneliness in a New Place
There are so many beautiful things about living in another country (see blog post). The food, the people, the scenery, learning new things. But there are also hard parts too. Not every day is an Instagram worthy picture of me hugging smiling kids or hiking cool hills. There are days that I just want to go to Starbucks but then I remember that there are no (proper) coffee shops in this city. Or when I want to go on a walk in the park…oh whoops. No parks. And there are definitely days that I just want a hug from my dad but he is an ocean away.
I hesitate to use the phrase culture shock because it is so crazily overused and a bit ambiguous. It is way bigger than that and actually more universal than you think. In fact, we have a word for it in anthropology. Anomie. "A sense of disconnection from society and a feeling of not belonging that result from weakened social cohesion.”
Here is the feeling I am talking about. See if you resonate with any of it:
No one understands me or knows who I really am. And when I do try to make connections, it just doesn’t work. I am alone. Everything is different and I don’t know how to navigate it--even the way that people make relational connections or eat or go about their day/work—so I cannot make a difference here because when I try it fails. It is too much. I wish I was back home.
Yes, I have thought all of these things. And whether you have moved across the world or just to the college dorm, I bet you have thought some of these things too.
At the beginning of last year, I was drowning in feelings like this. I felt alone and useless here in Zambia. I felt like I did not have any friends, was far away from my family, and things were crumbling at work. I just wanted to throw in the towel, but what do you do when going home is not an option?
To all you international workers, missionaries, college freshmen, new job holders, relocated married couples, literally all teenagers at one point or another, and anyone just feeling a little bit lonely: this is for you.
3 Tips for Combating Lonliness, Culture Shock, and Anomie
1. Get a pet
Now I have to tell you something--I LOVE dogs! Especially big ones. And I really did want to get one when I was struggling last year. I needed to know that something/someone was depending on me. A little living, breathing something in this world that would care if I was here or not. But dogs are a heck of a lot of work and money. So what’s the next best? A cat.
I found out through a local facebook group that there was a stray litter of kittens at a guest house in town. Zambians are not fond of cats (especially black ones) so they were free! Gosh dang it they were so cute jumping off of cat trees like sky divers and rolly pollying around the grass. So I scooped up a cute black and white one and took her home. (Side note: at the police road block on the way back home, the officer thought I was absolutely insane for hugging this little nugget so tightly to my chest. He thought I was even more insane when I said “I just became a mom!”)
Sophia is my little ray of sunshine when I come home. She always greets me at the door. And honestly she has gotten me through a lot. I have cuddled her, cleaned up her pee, vaccinated her, gotten pet sitters, moved house with her, and cried with her. This little fur ball doesn’t have drama and doesn’t talk about me behind my back. She doesn’t care if I say the right words or if I am upset one day. She just loves me. And that is what I need in this crazy world.
2. Exercise…especially yoga
I am convinced that exercise cures almost anything. I know we hear it a lot but it is so true that when your body is happy, your mind is happy. And this is even MORE important when you are in a situation where your mind is so off kilter—like in a different culture.
Like I mentioned, last year was a particularly hard time here in Zambia. But around the same time, while doodling around town, I found a shop with a yoga mat tucked away in a corner of the store. WHAT?! Yes, I’ll invest $20 in my mental and physical health thank you.
I have always been into exercising but something drew me to yoga at this point in time. I started out just practicing once a week. Then it moved to a few more times. And as I felt my body get stronger, I also felt my mind calm and heal. Yoga forces you to be in the moment. To focus on what is happening in your body and your breath in that moment, not before or after. So when your mind is going crazy with new and different things and spiraling emotions, yoga forces you to slow down. That’s exactly what I needed (and still need). It didn’t matter if I accidentally offended someone earlier in the day, that I got completely lost on the bus, or that I craved Mexican food so bad I could cry. All that matters is the present moment, breath, and being thankful for and aware of your body.
Do you feel overwhelmed in life? Lonely? Try out either of these yoga resources below:
3. Build a Squad
If you think about it, it is kind of a no-brainer. Feeling lonely? Find people. But it is not always as easy as that, is it? Sometimes the biggest reason we are lonely is because we won’t let ourselves reach out. We are our own biggest road block. That was certainly my issue.
The first thing I needed to do: Reach out. Say yes to the invite. Share a meal. Go to the function.
The second thing I needed to do: of those connections, pick people I fee safe with. People that won’t judge me. In a cross cultural context, that might mean reaching out to people from the same country as you. That is completely okay! (Of course not only people from your home but having a few people that understand you from that angle is very helpful!) If you come from a place of strength, you will live and serve better.
For me, it started out with a lunch with another girl from America. Then a couple chills with her and her husband (who is Zambian). Then an expanding to mutual friends. With time and trust, I now have a small squad that I know will have my back no matter what. I have messed up with them, sometimes I haven't treated them right, but I have also loved them and supported them. That is what community is…messy, imperfect people living life together. They are my go-to for fun and in hard times.
It is not easy I know, but you can do it, babes!