It has been 6 months since I first got to Indonesia to work at the Little Fireface Project (LFP) and conduct my PhD field work. Before this my serious experiences away from home (every post I make I seem to include that I am from Canada but I want to be SURE you all know I am Canadian) included a two month research volunteer position in Honduras and when I moved to the UK to pursue my Master’s degree. All of those times I suffered from homesickness, why did I think this time would be any different? Turns out some people do, some people don’t. I do.
I was super busy when I first got to Indonesia and I was with my supervisor, it just felt like a cool exotic trip. Learning lots of stuff, visiting different cities and staying in hotels while I get my permits and learned Indonesian, so far so good. Little did I know I hadn’t actually done anything yet. It first happened before the long journey to an intensive week long Indonesian course. We were sitting in a Pizza Hut in Bandung oddly enough, with some friends of the LFP station coordinator. I was chatting away with Anna, my supervisor, and she mentions how reclusive the area is, and how I will have to live with an Indonesian family to immerse myself and how there will be no internet. No internet. N-O I-N-T-E-R-N-E-T. Well that was it, the beast was unleashed. My face could not stop my tears and my sobs. I felt so bad for the 4 Aussies I had just met. Talk about awkward. Plus, a white person crying his eyes out in Pizza Hut in Indonesia. More awkward. Sitting on a bench being sandwiched in by 2 people on each side and not being able to escape. Utterly, mortifying.
When the beast takes over (I will henceforth refer to homesickness as the beast) all rationality goes out the window. Nothing matters except this very moment of suffering. Knowing the course is just a week. Doesn’t matter. Knowing that at this second I DO have internet connection. Doesn’t matter. All the beast cares about is making you focus on that awful feeling in your gut and keeping it that way.
When I moved to the UK it took me 3 months to tame the beast (I know … I know). Crying alone in my room like a 6 year old for 3 months and waiting for anyone I know to log onto skype so I can cry to their faces has its perks but having a fun time (or keeping my dignity) is not one of them.
Things can seem much lonelier than they really are
Fighting off the beast is actually possible but incredibly difficult but here are my top tips:
- Always say YES!
You will want to recluse yourself and you will say “I just want to be alone right now”. Worst decision you can do. The beast can feast on you if you are alone. You’ll have nothing to do but focus on how sad you are. Even if you barely know your housemates, go out with them for a pint. It will lessen your pain I promise you and help you establish a friend network in your new area.
As quote from one of my favourite films “exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands”. Again, you won’t feel like it but get off your ass and go jogging. It is for the good of your brain chemistry which is out of whack right now.
- Keep busy
I am now obsessed with insect trapping. Most fail miserably but it gives me something else to focus on besides the seething pit of despair in my heart. I joke but you understand what I mean. In the UK it became my studies and going on as many dates as possible (don’t judge me). Although that is a good point, many hormones are produces when you flirt, which makes you very happy and banishes the beast for a while anyway.
Francis fiddling with a malaise trap.
- Establish yourself in your new area
You need to feel like you belong. One way to do this is by making friends, joining a club, getting a part time job etc. In the field these are less likely to be options but you must try to integrate yourself somewhat. Anything that makes you connected to this part of the world. Visiting and exploring also does this.
- Forget about the past
That may seem harsh but let me tell you a little story. I used to be in a serious relationship when I moved to the UK. Long distance sucked. I left my entire being back in Canada which stopped me from enjoying myself in the UK. Thankfully the relationship was toxic and soon ended. As soon as it did … I started having a blast and fell in love with the UK. I’m not saying dump whoever you are with, but you need to be allowed to enjoy yourself in your area, you need to be 100% present in the now. No part of you can remain back home during this period or the beast will always have the jump on you and make you wish you weren’t where you are now. Have fun with your friends here and now.
And lastly 6. Find a safe place
For me it was Starbucks (they all look the same worldwide, quelled the beast). Now any café with wifi will do. Don’t wait until you feel awful to go, make it a weekly treat if possible. I trek to the nearest town every Sunday for a cup of coffee, air conditioning and wifi and it is glorious.If you are remote and alone doing fieldwork, write letters and keep a diary. It will keep you from going crazy and take it one day at a time.
It may feel like it will last forever and you are better of at home but … just think how jealous your friends are of you right now. Milk it! The beast is never slayed, only put to rest and it does routinely come back. Just remember how powerful you are and how powerful you’ll be after you live through this experience. Wordly, even?