An Adventure A Day

Because "life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all" – Helen Keller

I have an affinity for fog. Which is a good thing, considering how common it is in Belgium. When we arrived in country, we had to install fog lamps on our cars (or “ze frog lamps” as we understood the heavily accented Belgian explaining things to us).

I find foggy days strangely comforting. The world is coated in softness it often lacks. The rough edges are smoothed over, creating an atmospheric, elusory world of emptiness all around us. While glimpses of reality still exist – a sudden flash of sunlight as it briefly penetrates the clouds, the road that disappears into the mist ahead of you – in the fog a sense of otherworldliness reigns. When the fog eventually lifts, you find a world much the same as it was. You find that little bit of magic and mystery is lost.

Foggy days make me contemplative, perhaps even more so during this season of change. My mind wanders aimlessly through the disparate web of time. Past, present, and future mingle in a random tumble of memories, hopes, visions, dreams and reality. These dreamy foggy days are a gift, but too many of them and I can get lost in reverie, losing sight of what I hope to accomplish. Foggy days, it seems, are good for my soul but bad for my work ethic. Because even on the foggiest of days, there is much to be done.

These days, most of what I need to get done centers on our upcoming move. Prior to each move, I begin familiar tasks, honed and fine-tuned through a cycle of repetition completed before we leave each home. These include the tasks of sorting and purging. While some people find these tasks onerous, it centers and grounds me. The act of really cleaning out my home before each move is something that brings order to the chaos in my life and mind. Taking a hard look at the things that surround me and asking myself if I truly want to continue to hold something or let it go is something I find empowering. I am physically letting go of who I was, and making room for the possibility of tomorrow. Beyond everything else, each transition is an exquisitely blank page – a new chapter in your life as it were.

As I’ve begun the task of clearing out my house, I found myself growing calmer. The act of cleaning out the house has a physiological effect on me. A new sense of lightness, and a sense of purpose that eludes me at other times. Letting go of projects I felt obliged to finish is truly a physically lightening act. Letting go of things that reflect someone you once were, can be freeing. I went through several books that were, in essence, corporeal manifestations of dreams I once held. They belonged to a previous version of myself. Someone who had not yet lived through the experiences that brought me to today. Letting go of things that no longer represent you is truly liberating. Within that space, you are allowing yourself the room to create the person you might yet become. This time, it seems even more urgent for me, because this time we are moving for what we hope will be the last time. I am taking that as an opportunity to shine that reflective light on everything I own, and to reflect on who I am today.

It’s not all serious though. On a lighter note, one of the things I am most excited to get rid of is the mismatched collection of curtains and curtain rods I have assembled over the years. Anyone who’s moved a time or two knows this one truth: no house on this planet has remotely similar windows. No matter the number of curtains I amassed throughout the years, I always needed different curtains. Finally, I am getting rid of all of the random curtain rods and but three sets of curtains. That is something I have waited decades to do.

Not all of my pre-move rituals involve cleaning things out. I also go through and try to finish up projects I have lying about the house. Right now, I am trying to finish up a braided rag rug from a pile of old t-shirts I’ve accumulated over the past few moves. It’s coming along slowly, and I hope to finish it before we leave here.

Having these definite projects allows me to have some degree of control in a situation where so much is still unknown. Wrapping my arms around the familiar patterns of a routine is a comfortable way for me to approach the uncertainty of my life in flux. Like the fog that surrounds the countryside around me – my familiar patterns soften the edges of an otherwise difficult period.

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The speed of life is felt more deeply through the lens of a camera.

For the past week, I’ve spent most of my free moments backing up the digital photos I have collected from sometime in the first decade of the 2000’s to present. It’s been a slow and bittersweet task, as I stop and reminisce over the various seasons of my life. A special event, a memorable trip, a beloved moment frozen in time. One of my long-term goals is to have photo books and actual photos printed of these cherished events. I’m currently up to 2011. Not too bad, but there is a daunting task ahead of me. It’s definitely easier to take the infinite number of photos I have than to do anything creative and useful with them. The main reason I’ve put this off, other than the sheer volume of work involved, is the disorganization of my digital photographs. I have tried to maintain several back-up options, and some have worked better than others. But I’m still searching for that perfect tool – one that merges ease of organization, and creativity in printing, and not really expensive. The unicorn of photo sites.

Currently, I have an eclectic mix of storage solutions. Remember back when you would take your film in to get developed and you’d receive a disc with digital copies of all of your prints? Yes, I have some of those. For a longtime, I backed everything up on thumb drives, and then I backed them up on external hard drives. I still have them, although I learned that overtime, the data on the thumb drives can become corrupted, making it unusable. I made some discoveries this week that some of those original thumb drives hadn’t withstood the test of time, and the photos were unusable. My external hard drives seem to be holding up for now, but I did have one of those fail in the past, so I want something less likely to fall prey to mechanical failure.

Of course, I have several photos on my personal Facebook page, and several more on my Adventure A Day Instagram page, but that is far from all of my photos. I am still not completely satisfied with my digital photography organization.

When I started getting a little more serious with my photography, and reached more of an advanced beginner stage, I really needed an online option. I just had too many digital prints. I went with SmugMug, which is a paid hosting site. Overall, I am quite happy with the accessibility and photo organization. Initially, I went with SmugMug because they offer a photography sales option, and I thought I might want to do that one day. Of course, this option is available for one of the higher price points, and I am currently using the base option. (You can find the price lists here if you’re interested.) It’s fairly easy to organize, which appeals to the organizer in me, it’s very easy to use , you have an option to share photos, and the products available for purchase through partner sites are superb – but expensive. While I will go with a higher quality print for some photos, for the everyday photos and photo books, I want to go with a lower price. The sheer volume of photos I have equals an untold number of photo books to print, which brings me to the present. This week, I spent days uploading thousands of pictures to Snapfish, I’m finally nearly there as far as uploading. Next will be the even longer task of photobook making. I love the price of Snapfish, and I find the photobooks fairly easy to assemble. I’ve been happy with everything I’ve received from them. The only drawback is that it’s difficult to organize and find your photos when you have as many as I do now.

While I was uploading all of these photos, I got to thinking about my past photography goal, to sell some of my photographs. I did a little research and discovered Fotomoto. What I like about this website is that they process and ship all of your photos. They receive a commission from each sale, but you can reduce the amount they receive by paying a fee. Being new to selling my photography, this seemed like the simplest way to start. Fotomoto is WordPress compatible (of course, I found out after I opened an account that it was not compatible with the version of WordPress I use.) It still seemed like a good idea for a place to start, so I looked into other compatible (free) sites and came up with Tumblr. Now in addition to backing up my personal photos for printing, I’ve started loading photos to my new Tumblr account – An Adventure A Day Photography. Please stop by and take a look, if you see anything you like, click on the link by the picture for information on purchasing a print.

As I started this photo storage and sales story, I mentioned the speed of life. I don’t always think about just how much time has gone by since I began this journey. I guess it’s harder to see the passage of time when you’re busy living your life. Looking through the pictures with the kids, it was interesting to see what they remembered, which was generally more than I thought they would. Seeing memories of times that seemed to happen yesterday made me acutely aware of just how fast they slip away. Each move we’ve made, brought with it a beginning and an end, a mixture of the sad and the sweet. While the internet makes it easier to keep in touch with the friends you make along the way, a bigger part of what you miss about the past is the person you were in that place, at that time, with those people. That can never be recaptured. The photographs and memories help you hold onto those ghosts, a recollection of a time and place that exists only in your daydreams.

While I love the ease and accessibility of digital photography, I miss having the physical photographs to look through. I miss pulling out photo albums and reminiscing over times and days that might have otherwise been forgotten. But photographs also remind us of the ephemeral nature of life. From writing on cave walls, to the endless stream of photos available on the myriad of social media websites, people want to remember the past – and to be remembered.

What do you think? 

a simple life philosophy in uncertain times

Amor Fati – Love of One’s Fate

Friedrich Nietzsche

Amor Fati is a curious phrase coined by German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. I’ve found this to be a very grounding mantra over the years. (There’s a great article covering Amor Fati in depth on The School Of Life Website here.) At first glance, it may seem morose, loving that which you have no control over. I see it more as an invitation to find the freedom to fully embrace every aspect of your life. The good, the bad, and everything in between. The philosophical equivalent of Edith Piaf’s No Regrets.

While it isn’t always easy to achieve, striving toward Amor Fati is a way to not only accept where you are, but find joy in that place. You are not living with regrets, but consciously practicing loving acceptance for all that was and is. Doing so allows you to look forward to the possibilities of the future. Like anything else, it takes practice and effort. It is difficult to let go of the dreams you once had when they are no longer supported by the life you are now living.

Lately it seems increasingly difficult to live by this dictum, but for me, that’s what makes it so beneficial. It reminds me that there are many things beyond that which I can control. Loving where I am now – where the world is now – is something that I can control. That doesn’t mean that I don’t work towards improvements in the future, it simply means I am not ruled by things already come and gone. Live in the now. Love where you were then. Love where you are now. Love the possibility of tomorrow. That to me is Amor Fati. Every experience helped shape the person you are today. Every decision brought you to this point. Embrace them all, embrace who you are.

When I started this blog, I was new to Europe. I was excited to put some practical experience behind my master’s degree in international and intercultural communication. Over the years, through the moves, my plans have evolved and changed. Eleven years after we arrived in Europe, we are finally moving back to the States. My initial intent for writing this – experiencing life in a new culture is changing. In reality, it began changing after we left Germany. In Germany, we were immersed in German life and culture. In Italy, we had a stronger community of fellow Americans, and we weren’t as deeply rooted in the local culture. In Belgium, we’ve lived in the country, but we never truly espoused the culture. I can still converse in German, I can still speak some Italian, while I started off strong in French, I never lived in the language as I had the other two. Living in another language is a big part of internalizing another culture. Over the years, it became easier for me to write about the travel we did, because I wasn’t experiencing the same deep, rich experience. My focus was slowly changing and my blogging became more about travel and photography. In keeping with the theme of this post, I am fully embracing these changes and recognize that where I was at the beginning is not where I am today.

A year ago, we sat in the kitchen and planned a year of travel, filling every long weekend, school break, and much of the summer with plans to go, to see, to do. Fate had other ideas and our year of travel didn’t happen. It looks like our last trips were our final trips in Europe. We had 10 years to explore, and while we haven’t seen everything – we’ve seen quite a bit. One thing I learned about travel – your destination list never grows shorter. We’re leaving Europe for good in a few months, and right now, I am embracing the time that we had here, embracing the present at home – and embracing the open future before us.

What will this space look like going forward? I’m not sure yet. Adventure isn’t only found in travel and new cultures. Stay tuned to see what the future holds.

Where is it Wednesday?

April 1, 2020


Can you tell where this is by the flowers and fauna?

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Maybe the food will give it away?

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How about the animals?

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Maybe the landscapes will give you a clue….

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Anything yet? How about some local architecture?

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Maybe you still need another hint?

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Think you know? Maybe a look at the airport will help.

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Have you figured it out yet?

finland_edited-1

Where were we? Rovaniemi, Finland.

Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland, the official hometown of Santa Claus and one of our favorite vacations in Europe. During our visit, we stayed at the incredible Arctic Treehouse Hotel, which is surrounded by forest trails and fresh blueberries. We visited the Arktikum museum, Santa Claus Village (including the arctic circle, Santa’s post office, and the big guy himself! ), and Ranua Wildlife Park – one of the nicest zoos I’ve ever seen, with a fantastic playground for the kids.

Finland was one of the most beautiful countries we’ve visited, everyone found something they enjoyed. The food was wonderful -we especially enjoyed tasting reindeer, which was found in everything – from burgers to Indian cuisine.  The surroundings were phenomenal, and the hiking trails were built up so the ecosystem was not harmed while you enjoyed the forests. 

We went in August, and because the skies were bright nearly all night, it wasn’t optimal for viewing the Northern Lights. We didn’t mind though. It provided us with a welcome break from the heat of the Roman summer.

Have you visited Finland? What did you think? Is it on your list of places to visit?

 

Lately, my adventures have been a little closer to home. Right now, I guess that’s true for just about everyone.

When I started this blog, I was still new to life overseas – everything was an adventure and I wanted to share it. Ten years and three countries later, what I’ve discovered is that the biggest adventures aren’t necessarily the trips you take, but the life you choose to live along the way.

I’ve noticed that the longer I live in Europe, the less I write. I have transitioned from a wide-eyed wanderer to a more worldly version of myself. I am no longer living the life of a constant traveler; I am just living my life. What I’ve discovered is that I don’t need – or crave the same big adventures I did ten years ago. What I’ve learned is that small things hold big adventures. What I’ve found is that must-see places, and must-do events aren’t for everyone. Adventure is as unique as the individual, and the travel itinerary you love isn’t the same as the travel itinerary I love.

I’ve seen the rise of Instagram travelers and have friends with goals to check every site off their bucket list. Plenty of people love quick, see it all travel. They love to go there, see every must-see site, get the perfect picture and go, but I’ve discovered that doesn’t work for me. Although we’ve done the multi-country trips, and quick day trips, I’ve found that I prefer a slower travel. I may not see everything, but what I do see, I will see and enjoy in my own way.

Before we made the move from Key West, Florida to Pfullendorf in the state of Baden Württemberg Germany I wanted to see everything I could, cross everything off of my travel bucket list, visit every site I’d seen through the eyes of the travel channel. Our initial two-year assignment extended to three, then we received three additional assignments, taking us to Bavaria, Rome, and finally Belgium. Living somewhere longer doesn’t mean your bucket list gets shorter, it means you have an opportunity to keep adding things to it. Over the years, I’ve let go of my bucket list. I found that some of the things I’d dreamed of seeing were a disappointment, and some of the things I’ve discovered along the way far exceeded my expectations.

I’ve seen a lot, and I’ve written about some of our adventures. But life continues, and even in living in Europe we have everyday concerns. When the children started primary school, it became a little more difficult to take off on unscheduled adventures, and as they’ve grown, they prefer to do average kid stuff. They want to participate in after-school activities, and play with friends on the weekends, and just laze around after a long week in school.

Weekends aren’t always filled with travel these days. They’re filled with grocery shopping and homework and getting ready for the week ahead. But that’s ok. I’ve found that for us, when we travel every week – no matter how much we enjoy it – we get sick of traveling. These days we may travel less frequently, but I’ve found the strategy that works for us, and we enjoy every trip we take.

Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, we had plans to travel over spring break, and a couple of trips over the summer. Right now, our travels are on hold, as Belgium is locked down until 20 April, and we really don’t know what international travel or even travel within Belgium will look like after that. We’ll figure that out along the way, but this does give us an opportunity to get ready for the next chapter in our adventure.

We’ve reached the mid-point of our final three-year tour, not just in Europe, but in the Army. After more than 20 years as part of a military family, we are rapidly approaching the completion of another major segment of our lives.

My focus has changed, and although I still enjoy discussing travel, cultures, languages, and intercultural interactions, today I am more focused on how things are similar rather than how things are different. We’ve now had two postings affiliated with NATO, which has provided me with an opportunity to really get to know people from different countries, exploring different cultures not just through travel, but through friendships and meaningful interactions. This more than anything has changed how I see the world. Travel doesn’t change you. It’s the people you meet along the way.

I still have plenty of tales to tell, and quarantine provides a lot of downtime to tell them. Thanks for stopping by to take a look at my blog, send me a message – I’d love to hear from you.

The weather here in Belgium hasn’t seemed exactly autumnal, but even with temperatures reaching the 70’s, the leaves are beginning to turn, crops are being harvested, and the days are growing shorter. Autumn is my favorite season. I love the weather as it turns crisp and the expectations it holds for the holiday seasons ahead. I love the changing colors and the leaves that crunch underfoot, and here in Europe I love the festivals it brings.

We recently headed to Rongy for Fête de la Pomme – the Apple Festival in Rongy Belgium.

This festival is held annually on the first weekend of October to celebrate the apples (and some pears) as well as the local products. It was a delicious way to spend a Sunday afternoon. We arrived early, before the crowds really started to gather and walked through the various tents, sampling various apples and products.

Your entrance to the festival includes quite a few free samples. The fresh pressed apple juice was divine, and the local apples were delicious. Of course most of the vendors were willing to let you sample their products as well, and I tried some interesting apple and pear based liqueurs, Normandy ciders, local honey, and delicious handmade candies!

The vendor tent was definitely a feast for the eyes, but for me, the smell of all those beautiful apples was the best. One of the products not to be missed is the apple fritters – slices of apple dipped in batter and fried to perfection, then dusted with powdered sugar.

Although our visit didn’t coincide with any of the biggest events, like hot air balloons or riding demonstrations, we did find quite a bit to entertain ourselves. My daughter was even able to take a ride on a “unicorn”.

It was a lovely afternoon, and the best part was when we were able to join a group of friends on a tour of the local orchards.

While we stood in line waiting to take our wagon tour through the orchards, we were able to watch a bit of the birds of prey demonstration and catch sight of a sheepdog in action. Our group managed to fit in a wagon drawn by two young draft horses, and we took a beautiful trip through a nearby orchard.

Mark your calendars for next year, according to the Wallonia tourism website, the festival will be Saturday 05 – Sunday 06 October 2019!

The largest Pumpkin Festival

Spending time at a festival devoted to apples reminded me of another festival we’d attended during our second year in Germany, the Ludwigsburg Kürbisfest at Blühendes Barock.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, this is the largest pumpkin festival in the world. Each year, the festival has a theme. This year’s theme is “Pumpkin Forest”. The festival runs through November 4th, so there is still plenty of time to visit.

The year we attended, the theme was Jurassic Park, with dinosaurs crafted from pumpkins. Not pumpkins carved into dinosaurs, mind you, but enormous dinosaurs completely covered with different varieties of squash.

The lovely thing about this festival is that it runs so long (from late August to early November) it’s an easy one to visit and not experience overwhelming crowds. We visited on a beautiful autumn day, and enjoyed a long stroll around the park. The kids enjoyed the dinosaurs and playing in the hay playground.

We watched a giant pumpkin carving demonstration, and when we got hungry we headed over to the fest tents for our pumpkin based foods.

The food, if you are a fan of all things pumpkin, is fantastic. There are of course the expected pumpkin breads and muffins, but it’s the unexpected that are really special. After living in Germany, one of our favorite pumpkin specialties is pumpkin-cream soup – which not only do they have at Ludwigsburg, but they make the largest batch of pumpkin-cream soup annually. We also tested pumpkin maultashen, pumpkin drinks, and toasted pumpkin seeds. It was truly pumpkinrific!

After we had explored all of the pumpkins we could possibly handle, we headed next door to the fairytale village!

My week on Instagram:

I hear it all the time – you are so lucky to live in (insert city here). I am not going to argue that fact. I will be the first to admit that is the absolute truth. I am not going to sit here and complain about how difficult my life is. Because most of the time it’s pretty good. I have been really blessed to live in some pretty amazing places both stateside and abroad in the 20 years I’ve been married to a military service member. I have met some incredible people who have made this crazy journey worthwhile. I have had some fantastic opportunities and my children are already more worldly than people three times their age. In truth, I can’t complain about anything. I just want to inject a bit of reality into whatever vision you have of our life.

Before we moved abroad, I had a vastly different idea of what living overseas would be like. I imagined that I would be traveling to a new exotic and exciting location every weekend. I thought the travels would never end. It wasn’t long before I realized that reality was going to be just a bit different.

The truth of the  matter is, much like any other family in the world, our days and weeks are filled with the mundane and ordinary tasks of living. Far from the exotic, most weekends are spent catching up on laundry or recovering from the week. In fact, most of my weeks and weekends are spent a lot like yours, except for the past 8 years, I’ve spent mine in countries and languages that are not my own.

I find that to be the true challenge of expat life. Finding a way to feel at home enough in your new environment that your everyday life ceases to add to the stress and becomes a source of pleasure.

Sometimes that can be the challenge, especially when you aren’t fluent enough in the new language to handle life the way you are used to.

Take this scenario for example – you need a haircut. Simple enough in your home country. You call your favorite stylist and schedule an appointment. Now imagine that you’ve just moved to a new country and don’t speak much of the language. You certainly don’t understand enough to make the appointment over the phone. What do you do? You either give up haircuts until you figure out your new language, or you grab a phrasebook and head to a salon and try to schedule an appointment. This has happened to me. Not a terrible situation by any means, but it adds a level of complexity to your day.

Think about all of the things you take care of over the phone in any given day, and now imagine that you can’t do that. Because rely too heavily on the nonverbal cues in a conversation, you can’t communicate over the phone.

Now take this scenario: You have a sick child and have to make an appointment, take them to the doctor, pick up medicine from the pharmacy, all in a language you don’t completely understand. Imagine you need to administer medicines and you can’t figure out the dosages. Imagine you try to check in for a doctor’s appointment and nearly admit your child for  two weeks. Again, these things have happened to me. When your kids aren’t feeling well, you’re already stressed. When you have to try to navigate a foreign hospital, a foreign healthcare system, a different approach to medicine, it’s hard to keep an open mind.

Imagine that you have a spouse that travels for their job. Occasionally, that travel is dangerous. Now imagine that you are alone trying to navigate everyday life in a new country. It’s happened to me.

Of course, there are many less serious examples as well. Like the  time I bought what I thought were marinated steak strips on a skewer that ended up being slabs of fat on a stick. Or the time I thought the sample attached to my soap was shampoo, until I used it and realized it was lotion. Or the time I thought the conditioner was shampoo. Or the time I thought it was a holiday and kept my kid home from school until the school called looking for him. Or the time I was invited to a costume party and wore formal clothes because when I was invited they said to “dress up”. Or the days I’d show up at the school and wonder why no one was there – because it was a holiday I’d never heard of. There is no end to the list of misunderstandings I’ve had over the years. Most of them are laughable, and even in the most serious of incidents, I’ve found that most people are willing to help you out.

Yes, there are plenty of glamorous aspects to living abroad. Opportunity to travel is probably top on the list, and the best part is having the time to take in the places that only the locals really know about. My favorite part about living abroad is really getting to experience a different culture. This can also be the part that causes you the most stress.

There are the everyday things that are different, like grocery shopping or banking or paying bills, or trying to figure out the recycling or the school holiday schedules. Everything is just different enough to make life an adventure everyday.

Most of my days are spent making sure everyone is where they need to be when they need to be. Just like you. Most of my “free” time is spent making sure we have clean clothes, a clean house and meals to eat. Just like you.

Why not just let people think that my life is all glamour and travel to beautiful places? Because life abroad is first and foremost just that. Life. Like anyone else, we have our ups and downs. We have exciting weekends and boring ones. We are living – just like you. We’re just doing it in a different language.

If there is one lesson that I have learned living abroad for the past 8 years abroad (and 12 years stateside) it’s this: starting life over in any new place is difficult. Trying to figure out how to live everyday in a foreign language and a foreign culture is even harder.

If you have never been the only person in a room that isn’t speaking a language, you’ll never completely understand how difficult it can be. If you’ve never been somewhere and not been able to explain to yourself exactly why it is that everyone is doing something that seems completely foreign to you, you’ll never understand how unnerving that can be. If you don’t expose yourself to the differences in the world, you’ll never learn to appreciate them. If you don’t allow yourself to be the outsider, you’ll never truly empathize with those who are.

 

Lately I’ve just felt exhausted. Weary. Tired to the very recesses of my soul.

My load has been full since we’ve moved, and we’re all still trying to adjust to new schedules, new places, new languages, new cultures, new people.

It’s the kind of soul weariness where all you want is some time with your dearest friends, a comfy outfit and a warm beverage. But it’s a new place with new friends, our tried and true friends are scattered across the globe.

So we do what we can. We make new friends and try not to compare them to the people who’ve filled our communities in the places we’ve been. We spend time with new friends. We make time to write, Skype, FaceTime, message, and maintain relationships with old friends

It’s times like these when nostalgia becomes a double edged sword. When you look back and become lost in memories and forget to continue the forward progression of adapting to a new place.

Each of us is adjusting in their own way, sometimes gracefully, sometimes fighting it every step of the way.

For me, this is the most difficult and painful part of any move. After the nonstop action of the actual move, after the initial newness wears off, when real life takes over and you enter the cycle of adapting to a new culture.

Most everyone is familiar with the term culture shock. Most sources will tell you there are four stages, the honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, and accepting. You’ll find them referred to by different names, and some sources include more stages, but they are generally similar. You won’t necessarily reach them in order, and not everyone spends the same amount of time in each. Being familiar with what to expect is important – especially when you find yourself breaking into tears for something insignificant. The stress of a new culture can be tough.

The first stage of culture shock is the honeymoon stage. This is the time when you find yourself enamored with everything in your new hometown. This is the stage you experience during a vacation or trip, when everything is an adventure and you aren’t there long enough to move into the next stage of culture shock.

The second stage of culture shock is the frustration stage. I think it depends on the individual as to how long each stage takes, and it is possible to vacillate continually through them. Three months in, and this is the stage where I currently find myself. For me, this is the time when you are trying to live your everyday life, and you just can’t do it alone. It is the loss of independence, the loss of being able to navigate things, from the grocery store to doctors appointments without intervention from someone. This is the time when you are still building a community and still yearning to spend time with the friends you’ve left behind. This is the most difficult part of a move.

So how do you move past the frustration stage? Recognize that you are going through a stage. Most likely a stage that everyone will experience sooner or later.

It’s important to get out. Grab a coffee with new friends. Engage with your neighbors. Try to learn the new language, the new customs, the new celebrations. Find something to get involved in. The new friends you make will become the ones you miss when you leave, and it’s more fun to navigate new experiences with someone than alone.

Talk to someone. Watch for signs of depression in yourself and those around you. This is a difficult stage to navigate. Exercise, get out of your house, explore. Take time to care for yourself. Ask for help.

The frustration stage is the most difficult part of adjusting to a new place. What makes it more difficult is that you aren’t the only one. Every member of your family is going through the same process in a different way, and it’s difficult to be there to support someone else when you are wearing thin yourself.

At our home, my husband is in a new job, I am navigating daily life in a new culture, my oldest is adjusting to middle school on top of a move, and my youngest chose to participate in a French immersion class. Everyone is feeling some degree of stress. Each of it deals with it differently, and some days are just hard for all of us.

I think it’s necessary to actively work towards the final two stages, the adjustment stage and the acceptance stage. It is also possible to slip back and forth between the stages at various times.

Having been through this before, I know what I need to do – and not do to succeed. For me, a big part of a successful transition is not comparing where you are to where you’ve been. Its also important to maintain a sense of humor about what you’re experiencing, it feels better than being frustrated all the time. It’s so important to learn at least some of the language you are living in. You will never understand a culture completely if you can’t speak the language. If you don’t try to adapt at least a little, you will perpetually feel like an outsider.

During the third stage, you’ve established your new routines, begun to create your new community, maybe you understand a little more of the language and culture than you did. This is where you begin to feel at ease. Where you start to gain back some of the independence you lost at the start of your journey. I think I’m currently on the cusp of this stage, my French is improving, I’m beginning to navigate the different systems, I feel a little more confident and comfortable in my new surroundings.

The final stage is acceptance. At this stage, you can see the benefits and negative aspects of both your New culture and your home culture more readily. It is the time when you can easily adapt to most anything thrown at you and daily life becomes just that once more.

Going through the stages of culture shock is not limited to overseas moves. You can experience it in a move within a country as well. I’ve moved from New York to Georgia to North Carolina to Colorado to Florida to Kansas. Each of those places had their own unique culture, but it was contained within a larger shared culture. When we moved from Baden Württemberg to Bayern in Germany, I wasn’t anticipating as much of a culture shock as I found. When we moved to Rome, I expected culture shock, but I didn’t expect to remain in the frustration stage as long as I did. Moving to Belgium I knew that we’d be riding the roller coaster of culture shock once more. It will take some time, but we’ll move through this phase eventually.

One of my favorite books dealing with culture shock is “The Art of Crossing Cultures” by Craig Storti. I think this book should be required reading for anyone moving to a new culture. I studied communication theory, and I found that this book makes those concepts easily accessible to a non-academic reader.

How do you navigate culture shock?

This week, I started a French class. For anyone keeping track this is my fifth language other than English. Sounds impressive, right? English, Spanish, Russian, German, and now French – I’m like a one person United Nations!

It would be impressive, if I could actually speak any of them, but right now I feel like I have a mental logjam of languages somewhere deep in the recesses of my brain. Words leak through, but I have little actual control over which language comes out.

I studied Spanish from junior high through my first semester of college. The method of learning was very traditional – lots of memorization – vocabulary, verb conjugations, dialogues – but very little conversation.

I started studying Russian in college. I loved the language, but the first course I took ended up being heavy on culture and light on language, making the following course more than I could understand. I picked it up again in grad school, and finished with an ability to read, speak and understand Russian – and nothing to do with it, so it began to fade.

I learned German through living it. My vocabulary progressed in a haphazard manner, as I learned the words I needed to survive. I started with groceries and doctor visits. I learned how difficult it is not to be able to do the everyday tasks you take for granted – making appointments over the phone, ordering meat from the deli or vegetables from the farmers market. How overwhelming it was to not understand what was going on around you.

I began taking lessons, and found that German speakers were generally helpful and patient with people trying to tackle the language.

Then I started learning Italian. I began an Italian course at the local Volkshochschule (the German adult learning center). Attempting to learn a new language in a language that was not my mother tongue was challenging to say the least, I’m not sure how much Italian I picked up, but it did help my German.

After I finished with that course, I participated in an online course. I found the online course difficult, because I was taking the course with people of varying abilities, the course moved around a lot. I also discovered that I had a lot of difficulty hearing the subtle variations in spoken Italian.

When we finally moved to Italy, I worked with a tutor for the first year, but I was not making the gains I made in Germany. I can attribute this to a couple of things. The first, and most important was that most of the people I interacted with on any given day were native English speakers, or fluent English speakers. I was not driven by the same necessity that I had to learn German. For me, that made a difference. I got too busy living my life – conducted mainly in English to devote much time to improving my Italian.

The second thing that inhibited my Italian was that most of the time, when I spoke Italian people answered me in English.

When I found out we were moving to another country, where they spoke yet another language, I half-heartedly began studying on my own. But, trying to get by with my substandard Italian while teaching myself French was not a winning strategy.

We arrived in Belgium, armed with a single phrase book. Because in the chaos of school ending and moving, I hadn’t thought far enough ahead to order anything else. In Germany and Italy, at least initially we had relied on my husband’s mastery of the languages to get by. Because he had studied both of those languages it worked until I could figure things out. This time we were flying blind. As a participant of an after school French Club, our nine year-old was our best translator. Someone needed to learn some French – fast.

I’ve just finished my first week of an intensive course. I prefer to learn in this manner, structured and quickly – it works for me. Not since I learned Spanish and Russian have I learned in a truly structured manner. Now, between the other languages I’ve studied and spoken along the way, I’m seeing that I can pick up on grammatical structures more quickly than in the past.

The most difficult part of French for me so far is getting the pronunciation down. I see words, and want to read them exactly as they are written. Not so fast says the French language, because these letters are pronounced differently than they are written, and these letters are never acknowledged at all. These other letters sound like this, except when they don’t, and these letters are always pronounced, except when they aren’t. And my head is spinning.

So here are my two cents on learning languages:

1. Start as early as you possibly can. While it’s never too late to learn a new language, it’s also never too early.

2. US schools begin language classes too late. I started learning languages in seventh grade – way too late for an introduction to Spanish. My husband’s family included Italian native speakers, and my children began speaking German at ages 2 & 3. Guess which one of us struggles the most – yeah, that would be me.

And my two cents on French so far :

1. How is it possible for one language to pronounce so many letter combinations the exact same way?

2. Those exact same pronunciations make French verb conjugations a little easier to remember.

And on people who speak another language:

1. Be kind to people speaking your native language with a foreign accent. It isn’t easy living in your second (or third, or fourth….) language.

2. Don’t assume that because someone has a strong accent that they can’t speak your native language. If I speak to you in a language that obviously isn’t my first, don’t automatically answer me in my native language. Respect the fact that I’m trying, and ask if I’d prefer to switch languages.

My tips for learning languages?

1. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You are going to make mistakes. You are going to say the wrong thing. Sometimes you’re really going to say the wrong thing. Say it anyway. Keep trying. Eventually you will understand one thing someone says, and that’s a good thing. Keep practicing and each day you will understand more.

2. Surround yourself with native speakers as often as you can. Immersion is the best way to learn a language.

3. Take as much formal training as you can. I’ve heard stories of people teaching themselves language by going to the cinema or watching I Love Lucy, but this type of passive learning has never worked for me. I require feedback and a schedule to learn from. That being said:

4. Augment your formal training. Listen to the radio, watch television, read books – whatever will familiarize you with the cadence and speech patterns of your target language.

This week, after one week in French, I understood something on the radio, read and understood most of a children’s picture book, gave someone my phone number and spelled my name for them in French – correctly. Did I do any of them perfectly – no, of course not. But I tried. And that is the secret to learning any language.

Be fearless. Keep trying. Have fun!