This is the first year I’ve had the odd experience of having a birthday completely away from home. Sure, I’ve not been at home on my birthday before, but I was always going home soon or seeing family soon or with friends I truly love as family. This is the first year I was near nobody with whom I was that close, and not about to be with people with whom I’m that close.
And with this, I’ve learned a few things.
1-It’s possible to have a great time even if people you love completely won’t be there.
I decided, and my parents encouraged me, to plan something nice for my birthday. To have an active day and surround myself with new friends that will, if all goes well, one day be old friends.
So I did. My flatmate and I went shopping. Then I met six women for some tea at the Willow Tea Rooms which are, as I’ve always heard, absolutely lovely and beautiful. Then my flatmate and two others wandered shops some more, and me and two others went to see Guardians of the Galaxy II.
To finish the day, my flatmate and I went to one of the women’s residences to watch the last half of Eurovision, which was a lovely, hilarious experience.
I had a great day with great people, and I received cards and some gifts, which was unexpected.
And so, those women all made me happy and made my day.
But at the same time….
2-Birthdays are trigger points for homesickness.
It doesn’t have to be your birthday. It could be your best friend’s or your sister’s or your father’s. And you can be, until then, perfectly content. I’ve had my share of homesickness, but I’ve settled and don’t get hit with it very strongly very often anymore. And yet, last night I called home around 1am in tears because I was sad with no idea why. I’d reached the point of sad at which everything is a reason, and therefore nothing is a reason.
Truth is, though, I was expecting that. My mother’s birthday is less than two weeks before mine, US Mother’s Day is the day after my birthday this year, and I have a twin. It’s prime homesickness time. I just wasn’t prepared for how hard it hit me.
And, in a way, having a lovely day increased the feeling. But I don’t regret a thing.
3-Birthdays are opportunities for comparison and jealousy.
What did other people abroad get on their birthday? How many cards? How many well wishes? Did anybody visit them? Does anybody plan to? What about video chat?
As much as people hate it, jealousy and envy are very real feelings in many aspects of life. Expats celebrating birthdays are no different, at least for me. I can’t help but compare my friends and family to that of others I know that were abroad on their birthdays. Did they get more cards from home or a person visiting, more well wishers through our ever-growing technology, more…?
Which is not mentally or emotionally healthy, of course, but is somewhat unavoidable. Humans like to compare themselves to humans similar to them. It’s why representation matters.
But in this case, what matters is that you focus on your friends and your family and their personalities and normal customs and not those of other families and friend groups. It’s not easy. And if you get homesick it’s nearly impossible.
One good night’s sleep and recognizing what you’re doing helps accomplish it, though.
And finally, and somewhat most importantly for me….
4-Handmade, glitter-covered cards are always something to smile about.
I received two, one each from some identical twin lassies, and although opening the envelope left glitter all over my desk and chair and some work notebooks, I love them. They were the first onto my wall and will stay there for the foreseeable future, a reminder, along with a card from my parents, of the people who love me back home.
And the cards from my new friends beneath will remind me of the people who care for me here.
And together, these things remind me that I am one of the lucky ones.
Your Bonnie Celtophile,