Going Home: What No One Really Talks about

A few months ago, I sat down with two Polish friends in an Irish Pub in Copenhagen. We talked about many different things and I felt inspired by their input, as I always do when I find myself among people who come from different places. Foreigners (to you, which potentially, could be anyone…) always bring their own backgrounds into the conversation and that is, to me, what makes these conversations particularly rich.

That day, we knew it, was one of the last nights we would spend together as I was a few weeks away from going back “home”, a home which hadn’t been mine for the past 5 and a half years. It was about to be special, in many ways, and our conversation slowly went on to touch on the most interesting topics to the nomad’s life: being “back”.

Surprisingly enough, I had never talked nor heard anyone talk about what one of my two friends mentioned: pressure.

Oh, the pressure of going back home… Where do I start? Does being “back” really mean being “back” to where we left from, to the mindset we were in before flying out, to the same routine, to the same house, to the same people?

Going back home is very hard – because everything can be the same and yet nothing feels as it fits anymore. But the expectations are the same. Your parents expect the same from you. Your siblings. Your friends. Your country’s workplace. Your neighbourhood. Nothing has changed but you have and everything needs to be updated.

The food you couldn’t live without suddenly doesn’t look appealing to you anymore; you find yourself having to look for conversation topics to discuss with your best friends when you used to spend so much time together without ever wondering why you’d have to leave; the places you used to love have become dull; no job position seems to be of interest for your profile and your desires; the people you thought could understand you the best have no answer to comments or questions nor does it seem they have any interest in listening to you anymore.

And it’s hard not to think it is bad. That you are bad, that they’re bad, that the food is bad, that the neighbourhood is bad, that the work situation is bad, that the people are bad, that everything is bad. It is hard because, somehow, it feels like it. Because in that other place, you found this amazing food that seems to have been made for you; you found this company to work in, which you loved so much you could have created yourself; you made such special friends you wished could have come along with you; you’ve seen so many places where you’d see yourself live a daily life; you’ve seen so much that what you have now, back home, does not seem enough, does not seem to fit who you are anymore.

Everyone, everything – they keep expecting the same things from you. The same behaviours, the same way to dress, the same tastes, the same desires, when maybe, maybe, something has changed within you, some things have changed, you don’t really know why, but you find it hard to explain and you’re not sure where it comes from, but it’s there, it’s different, it’s special and you wished you could do something about it.

I think it’s about updating and being okay with the change that’s happened within. Being okay with the fact that you’re not the same. And that it’s a good thing.

Maybe our home countries can deal with our changes, too (and by home countries, I mean everything around us, the people, the food, the landscapes, the plants, the animals, etc.); but we have to make the update, be proactive and change what has to be changed. Updating might not work, but it’ll be worth the try. And then the world is still open, and there’s still time and places to go…

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Birthday Words

I’ve always loved birthdays. And because my mind remembers little details such as birthday dates, I’m usually able to remember the most important ones – and I like to.

If you know me, you know how positive I am and it just makes sense for me to be excited about birthdays: how much more lively and happy than a birthday can you get? It seems like a little thing, it’s just one person’s special day, one might say, but let’s think about it for a second (okay, maybe a little more). Is it really that little?

A birthday means life. A birthday means that x years ago, you made someone’s day, maybe two people’s days, probably more people’s days, just because you took your birth breath, your first cry, and were on your way to doing your first everything. X years ago, on that very same day, you made people happy. You came into the world. Another human life came into this world, and it was a miracle.

Or maybe you didn’t make anyone happy, which is probably a lie, but let’s say you didn’t. You cannot just deny the fact that x years ago, you came into this world, and it was a miracle. The union of two people allowed for you to be created. Flesh and flesh made more flesh, mind and mind made more mind, and that’s you. A human life made out of other human lives.

You are life. And your birthday needs to be celebrated for this very reason.

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My sister and I for her 16th birthday. She’s about to blow candles on her “Merveilleux“, a delicious cake that we used to have at home every time one of us in the house would turn a year older until I moved out.

Another important reason why I love birthdays is because on these particular days, people always always always show how kind and thoughtful they can be. Birthdays are filled with love, laughter and positivity.

I’ve received messages and calls from 5 different continents, I received mate from Argentina, a card from France, jasmine tea from China, virtual and real hugs and kisses from all over Europe and each little gift I was given all contained at least one thing: love.

Love. On all five continents, in all hearts, there’s kindness and love. People willingly take a few minutes, maybe even just seconds (3″ to click on the link given by Facebook to post a 3-word message that will take 10″ to write, and 1″ to move the cursor and press enter) to wish someone else a happy birthday, or say congratulations, or maybe something else, depending on the language used by and the personality of the sender.

Maybe there’s Facebook, you’ll say. Maybe it’s just because it’s there and so people click the button. And maybe they don’t know you but write to you either way because it’s there. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about motivations. Whatever your reason for writing a birthday message, for writing anything positive, any good thought – what matters is the intention. People clicked on the link Facebook gave them. People can click. People can write good things. People can do acts of kindness.

It warms my heart – not because people thought of me specifically, but because people can think of others and take time for others. Kindness. Love.

Kindness. Love. If I have a drink tonight, I’ll raise my glass to humanity, and to kindness and to love.

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Don’t Tell Ze French you ‘ave Diarrhea

Featured image was found here!

Aï am veri sorri if iou are French and can’t stand reading zis piece ov informésheun. Euh litteul bit ov auto-dérision néveur ‘eurt énioane.

Not too long ago, I was talking to an Asian friend of mine, while getting out of class, and we were talking about coffee and tea habits. I asked her if she could have milk products like cheese and yoghurt, if it was fine with her stomach, given the fact the Asian body supposedly cannot digest dairy products properly, as I’d heard. She answered that she’d only just learned about this and that she’d always eaten dairy products. We were out of class now, I was walking in front of her and another French friend of mine, and she added, very casually, that “sometimes [she] get[s] diarrhea”.

Uh-oh. What face do I put? She just shared something VERY personal and very UNSPOKEN in the French culture and Elise and I start to laugh in a very awkward way, not getting over the fact that she just shared this kind of info, yeah she did, she did share that, she said that sometimes eating dairy products gives her diarrhea. Fortunately, I did not have to look at her in the eyes while she said such a thing. I can’t believe she said this… And I’m sure Elise is thinking something along those lines…

See, when you are born and raised the French way, you don’t say these things to classmates unless you are VERY close. You might even never talk about these things. Nope. Only your doctor needs to know this. And no one else.

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French title, litteral translation: “The Discreet Charm of the Intestine”.

Look at this translation: this book was written in German, “Darm mit Charme”, which can (apparently) translate into “Charming bowels” (according to Google translate, “Gut my charm”). In English, this title was translated in a very scientific way: “Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ”. And then you have ze French, who decide to say that the gut is charming, okay, whatever you say, but that we can’t have it this way, it has to be in a very discreet, reserved manner, meaning you have to keep your gut activities and thingies and whatever is going on in there very well hidden, however charming it might be. People need to know they can read this peacefully without being judged because this is too crazy to be talked about, you know?

To other people, i.e. the non-French, this is just normal. And this is something that you realise and get used to when you live abroad. Your ears have no choice but to adapt. Last weekend, I went to a yoga class, and right after, they usually offer a “ginger shot” (infused ginger in water with honey) – but this time, there was another kind of shot, a pre-made fermented Kombucha. I ask what it is, and I am told it’s a kind of mushroom that’s supposed to be good for the gut, your digestion and all that jazz. To this is added the following sentence: “If you drink this a lot, you will get a lot of farting”. WHAT!

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This is what happened in my mind: This is just crazy to me. I’ve known you for over a year, I see you about every week and know nothing about you or your life apart from the fact that you own this yoga studio, because you are very busy and also very Danish, and now you tell me that I’ll get a lot of farting if I have 2L of this kombucha drink!

Just writing these words now requires a lot of preparing for me. A few years ago, I would probably not have been able to write this article. My French fingers and mind just find it weird to be talking about such matters if not for a health-related purpose. A little voice in my head keeps telling me that these subjects and body activities are unsuitable for casual conversation with someone I barely know, let alone for a blog article.

This illustrates how conservative the French mind can be. Many topics that would fit in a lot of conversations in other places are taboo to us so-called frogs and simply cannot be addressed in casual conversation: your gut health, sex and everything that has to do with it (although I think this one is rather international), foreign origins that might not be too good-looking (your parents come from Africa, wow, this is, this is… Beautiful sky today, right?), money, inter-cultural marriages, and anything that’s a bit different than the established norm. Things are this way and in no other could they be carried out.

Swearing should also be limited, but that’s for another day.

Is it similar in your culture? I’m curious to know!

NB: This is a broad picture of my culture when it comes to “”sensitive”” subjects, but then as always, it’s all relative and everything that is written here can be subject to change, depending on age, origins, open-mindedness and more.

The Danish Virtuous Circle: The Importance of Responsibility

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how being both a student and a worker in Denmark is an amazing thing. I take the idea further and tell you what I feel makes the workplace such a great and open environment to learn from.

In general, Denmark is amazing when it comes to work experiences, especially when, like me, you come from a country where being a student reduces you to a no-one, an incapable, someone who isn’t fully “complete” yet, like a baby who’s been in their mom’s womb for a few months only and is not ready to come out yet, or like a teenager who hasn’t finished high school yet, and the list goes on.

In many countries, when it comes to work, I have the feeling that some things are never going to be enough. The school you went to, the experience you have, the way you use your experience, where you’ve worked, and blablabla… It is never going to be enough because someone is always going to be better than you. And if you happen to find the job you’re enough for, a job you like, then there probably will be many other jobs than will be better than yours, more paid, etc. Or maybe that’s just the conservative elite French system?

Life-long education

In Denmark, you are taught many things that are not typically part of a school year curriculum. So a few things you are taught are not about maths and grammar, they’re skills you need to be part of a society that works as a whole. You get taught teamwork (through a lot of group work and discussions), how to speak in public (so even the shiest ones can say what they have to say), how to take initiatives (assignment instructions are very large), how to listen and be listened to (there is almost no hierarchy both at uni and the workplace), how to be part of society (at university, in classrooms where 30+ fit, tables are put in an open rectangle rather than in rows that face the teacher), all in all, you’re taught how to be responsible for your own actions.

… And you get to develop your skills at your workplace(s), where you’ve started working at as soon as you were able to be treated as a human being who has a brain and who can use it and who can have a sense of responsibility.

See, in many places, this would mean waiting until you are 25 years old.

And it’s a huge problem!

Can you not remember being a kid and happy to be treated as a responsible person who can do things on their own? How did that make you feel?

If you have no one, nothing near (or far from) you to help you build confidence, especially as a young and ambitious woman living in the 21st century, how can you manage? Let’s not talk about ads and all the things that make women feel like we always have to be, or have, or behave in ways we are not, with things we do not have, or behaviours we do not find fit our personalities – let’s just say that you cannot be about 25 years old and entering the job market and be expected to thrive just in a snap of fingers.

From living and experiencing both the university and the workplace in Denmark, I can honestly say that I have gained as much academic knowledge as I have acquired and developed personal (and inter-) skills.

Responsibility, what for??

In Denmark, you are taught to be responsible. You don’t need a stupid doctor’s note or letter from parents to tell your school that you’re sick when you’ve reached age 16. Of course, people abuse from that, and they miss the entirety of the 25% absence allowed during a school year in order to sleep in or do whatever they feel like doing, but they also get a sense of responsibility. And that’s one of the most important things you need to be taught when you are 16 years old, because throughout your life, no one is going to take you by the hand to give you everything you need, everything you want, everything you aim for.

When you get sick, you need to catch up on what you’ve missed in class.

When you get fired, you need to find a new job.

When you’re not happy wherever you find yourself, you need to get up and go out there and look for what makes you happy.

And so in Denmark, you’re more likely to find people who take initiatives and who are responsible for their actions because they’re taught to do so from age 0 (okay, okay, more or less, maybe not that early. I am just exaggerating here because it seems like it really is a normal thing, whether 50 or 10). Elsewhere, it seems way less important to be taught that responsibility is a real thing in life.

In class, when professors give questions to discuss, and you end up discussing the questions with international students only, you end up discussing other non-uni-related things after a little while and wait until the professor starts speaking again. When you discuss questions with Danes, there’s a 5-minute break at the end of the discussion, just before the professor starts speaking again.

So surprisingly enough, in Denmark, you end up with responsible people. Danes seem to like to want to things. They want to help, they want to grow, they want to learn, they want to live well, they want good things from life, whatever they might be.

Again, if this country’s considered one of the happiest on Earth, what can it be that makes them so happy? Responsibility has definitely its part in the game.