Written by Diana Seasonwein
for IWAP’s ‘Bridge Magazine’
I have been living in Prague for the past six months. During that time I returned to Washington, D.C. (via an emergency medical evacuation) in the middle of May and stayed there for one month.
I came back to Prague in the middle of June and then returned to D.C. at the end of July for ten days. I have just returned to Prague after my third trip to D.C. where I stayed for ten days. That is a lot of travel, jet lag and disorientation. Anne asked me to write about moving and adjusting to a new place from a professional perspective. I am not sure if I can comment professionally, but I will try.
First, I will share a dream with you that I had last night (three nights after returning from my third trip).
I am exercising in a gym, and I leave my purse with all my credentials and my calendar and address book for the States in a large room. I return to discover that while my purse is still there, my wallet with all my identifying documents has been stolen, along with my addresses for friends and family. Surprisingly, I am not upset. But I am at a loss as to how to find these lost items.
Why I am telling you this? I think that this dream really speaks volumes as to what it is like to move to a new country. Who am I if I am not connected to my friends and family? And with all that travel back and forth, where am I?
Well, who were you before you moved, and to whom were you connected? Were you defined by your job? For those of us who moved here as, shall we say dependents, did we previously have a job? In my case I had a private psychotherapy practice that I closed after thirty years. This was part of the process of moving. I really wanted to move here but that meant making a choice and letting go of the one thing I loved in order to do something that I had wanted to do all my life: live overseas.
I did not have a ready-made private practice waiting for me here in Prague and since I do not speak (much) Czech I had to network among English speakers. While I now have a small private practice, I had to let go again of something else: the idea that I could replicate here what I had in Washington. It was rather easy to let go because I had other things that I was doing. I was, and am studying, the Czech language. I was serendipitously asked to apply for a teaching job for which I was hired. I was participating in the IWAP. These activities allowed me to make many new contacts and to begin an entirely new address book (which did NOT get taken in my dream).
Through the IWAP meetings I learned about the Czech Helsinki UN Refugee Counseling Center. I promptly volunteered but because of language barriers I was not able to work as a counselor with the refugees. I am hoping to contribute to the counseling center in other ways. What I am saying is that even though my embassy ID badge says DEP, I am developing an Independent sense of self.
Our three children are grown and not living with us so we do not have young ones as a source of contact. But we do have two dogs that need to be walked throughout the day. This is another good way to meet and establish contacts. We have also joined a religious congregation and have become active in that. Of course, what we are used to in the States cannot be replicated here either.
What I have learned is to let go of the established order in my life to enable me to have new experiences in a new culture. These experiences are why I want to live overseas. At the same time, because I had an existing order, I have been able to use that as the skeleton or building blocks for amalgamating the old with the new. I am sure that each of you has the foundations, each one a unique collection of your individual experiences with which to continue to create yourself.
I do not intend to suggest that it was easy for me or that it is, or will be, easy for anyone else. It takes a commitment to oneself to work at feeling at home here. Each of us progresses at a different pace for the different aspects of ourselves.
When is it time to consult a professional?
When you have a decrease or increase in appetite.
When your alcohol consumption increases.
When you have a decrease or increase in sleep; when you have difficulty falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep; when you wake up early in the morning and can´t go back to sleep.
When you can´t get out of bed or feel fatigued and have little energy.
When you feel tearful or weepy or blue.
When you have difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
When activities that used to give you pleasure no longer do so.
When you are irritable.
If some or all of these symptoms persist most of the day and last for six weeks or longer.
To circle back to the dream: I lost the address book with my contacts in the States and was not upset about it. What I didn´t lose was the internal sense of being connected to them. Long-time friends, even if far away, are very, very important, and I continue to e-mail them, to visit them when I go home and to have the good fortune of having some of them come here to visit me. The result is that while in some ways leaving home was an abrupt up-rooting from all that was familiar, I am able to feel my new roots growing here in part because I am still nurtured by the friends I left behind.