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Advice to avoid feeling like you will die from nostalgia

Yesterday, I realised that I have been living by myself for four months now. Four months in a foreign country and, strangely, I have survived. Not only have I survived, I have actually had an amazing time here. Before coming, especially the night before the trip, there was blood, sweat and tears in my house. I tried to find meaning in spending almost one year away from my family and I couldn't see any way that I was going to be able to get used to it. I was talking about this with Lucija, and about how bad she felt for not feeling excited to return home - as if she were a bad daughter or bad friend; "It would be normal to at least feel a little happiness knowing that you're going to return home and see all your loved ones". I understood her. Sometimes I feel the same way: I have been having a great time here, eating salmon and travelling, while my family have no milk, or coffee or sugar... Yes, that's Venezuela for you.

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I arrived to the conclusion that even the most spoiled people can still survive by getting used to the feeling of missing people, to the point where you forget how to actually miss them. Even the "babies" of the house - like me! We are selfish, we could live without everything that constitutes our life: we adapt to whatever environment and circumstance we are placed in. I don't know if this applies all of the time, but being on Erasmus, so many things happen that you simply don't have the time to cry for those you left behind. Being here, I discover different things about myself every single day. I never could have imagined, as clumsy as I am, that I would travel alone, cook, run errands and party with different groups. I never thought that I would become so comfortable outside my comfort zone. Evidently, it's not because I am extra special, it's because Erasmus has this effect on people. I'm so busy getting to know and absorbing everything that I have learned, everything that has happened to me in my 130 days since arriving here, and I haven't become one giant tear or disintegrated into a small pile of dust. It is a human defence mechanism: we can't be sad for a long time, we move on... even when our roots call us home.

It's not that we don't miss our family; talking to them on Skype; seeing the house; the food they're eating; discussing the things we would normally discuss if I were actually there - the things that still make me cry no matter how many times they're repeated. But, when I hang up and I talk to Julia and Sonia and I go into their bedrooms to distract myself, I do stop thinking that the only possible way of life is back in Venezuela. We are ambiguous: one moment we would give anything to go back and see our people for a couple of days, and then the next minute we are horrified at the idea that there's only a few days left until everything is over. These are the contradictions of Erasmus...

I think it's the people. Feeling loved, feeling like you have a home... That's what makes you feel like you belong - not the language or the passport. It's the love.

Of course, in my case, the disregard is amplified by the fact that I do not miss the climate of insecurity and social injustices in Venezuela. I do not miss the mediocrity of the government or the posters of Chavez's eyes on every corner. I don't need the impoverishment and the inflation at all. I don't miss spending hours queuing in the supermarket just to buy some flour.

But friends and family? When you read this I don't want you to overreact and say that I do not miss you, that I do not love you. I think about you so much that it seems inexplicable to me that I am able to be happy and sad at the same time and I had to dedicate a few lines to this question. And now that I have, I think about everything I miss and how nothing, not the affection of my friends or the most beautiful places in Europe, can erase it from my mind. Just in case you doubt it, let me tell you what it is like to be far away, what it is like to want something you can't have. I miss my mother's cooking, of course. It's incredible the way that food seems to never leave my mind. I want a good avocado and some slices of mango and crumpets and white cheese and fresh juices and empanadas and lately I have a craving for some sponge cake... Or even for some strange things I didn't know I liked, like candied papaya. And I think about pisto and Spanish tortilla and the quesadillas and pierogi and salmon and then a fried corn cake... It's like a gourmet dish to me. I would exchange all the Starbucks frapuccinos in the world for a coffee and cookies at my house.

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I miss the Spanish religious songs and the smell of El Placer when I go to class in the mornings. I miss watching tv series with my sister and laughing with her and being able to talk to my parents about anything I'm worried about, whenever I'm worried about it. For however amazing and cultured my European friends are, I still miss the Venezuelan sense of humour. Even though I've never been rude, I miss the words: "marico", "la vaina esa", "que arrechera". The "joder" and the "de puta madre" that the Spanish say don't compare with the ample Venezuelan language. I miss the excess of confidence, the mischief, the liveliness. I miss being able to wear shorts and t-shirts all year round. I miss the long conversations with my mother, my aunt, my sister and my cousin where we criticised everyone around us; where we never got tired of certain topics - these were always accompanied something special my cousin brought with her - food, of course.

I miss walking around the corridors my university: the buildings, the classrooms, and the challenge of studying in them. I miss being there for Nani and explaining things to him when he needs it. I miss San Ignacio and the Paseo el Hatillo, Las Mercedes, Las Americas and the Hyper Jumbo and the evenings out to have drinks with my favourite people... How I miss Ávila and my Cordillera de la Costa, to look up and see a mountain. I miss the chaos of Caracas, the advertisements, the tall buildings, the motorways, the whirlpool of people... All of this I miss specially when I'm in Krakow and the tallest building only has 15 floors - which, by the way, are the AGH bedrooms with mine among them. I still haven't met my new cousin, Antonella, and I'm not there to see Sarah with her new phone and Ana Valeria talking like a parrot. I miss the colours, the smells, the flavors and the sounds of Venezuela.

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Despite sounding very depressed, it's not like that! It's great having something to miss; it makes life more complete. Knowing that you have all this waiting for you makes thinking about coming back not so bad. It's having your feet in paradise and your head... also in paradise. Missing things that only you know - as sadly I am the only Venezuelan Erasmus student in Krakow (for now) - makes you interesting.

It might seem like a contradiction, and it is. It is wanting your entire life to be Erasmus, and at the same time wanting to include the taste of your own country. I guess that this will be the main goal in my life after my time here is finished... And for those who have lived this experience as well. It's feeling like you're moving on, but at the same time you're feeling all the symptoms of despair.

Okay, after making you sick with my own nostalgia, I'm going to share with you a couple of things that have helped me overcome those moments where everything seems unbearable. Even though they seem obvious, these simple things are exactly what will help you the most:

  1. Surround yourself with friends.

    Especially a consistent and close group, because they are the ones who will give you that family kind of love that we need so much. But, also try to go out with different people. On Erasmus, people don't get jealous: your friends will understand if one day you go out with another group. Variety will keep you on your toes and stop you from thinking about things that make you sad.

  2. Avoid routine.

    There's a moment on Erasmus when everything makes you lazy. You think you know all the clubs and the interesting places, so you stay home all day. Don't do it! You don't know all the places in your city, there's always something new: a bar, a café, a park or even a shopping centre. Discover them!

  3. Go out during the day.

    Erasmus students have a very active nightlife, which means that we spend the night partying and wake up at 2pm and, if you are in Krakow, the sun goes down at 4pm - or earlier. For me it was very impressive the first - and only - time I missed the sunlight... You have no idea how sad it was. Sunlight brings you joy and is good for your health. Wake up early and go for a walk!

  4. Don't stop doing the things that make you happy.

    The Erasmus rhythm has such a strong pull that, after so much going out and travelling, there comes a time when you realise that you have gone three months without reading, without watching movies, without writing or without watching your favourite series. These are the little things that somehow connect you with your life in your native country and distract you when nostalgia strikes. Hobbies are good for the mind. Don't forget about them!

  5. Cook your native food.

    One of the things we miss most is our food; but this is easily fixed. Of course, things will never taste like how our mothers, aunts and grandmothers make them, but we can try and there are many benefits of doing this. You get distracted looking for ingredients that you can't get in this country or thinking of things to replace them, you'll kill the craving and improve your culinary skills.

  6. Speak to your people every day.

    Even if it's just a couple of messages a day. Try not to lose contact completely, it doesn't take up much time to send a good morning or good night message, you don't have to Skype for two hours! That slight contact will help you not to miss them too much and you will feel that somehow you are still there with them, and you will make the people who love you very happy. This is important. Don't forget that what this is for you is an adventure, but for them it means your absence. While you travel and have fun they go on with their life but without you in it. I'm not saying that they are unhappy or anything, but the ones you leave behind are not on Erasmus and will miss you the same as you miss them. Help yourself and make those who care about you happy.

  7. Clean your bedroom.

    Yes, you heard me. Put on some loud music and make a cleaning date with your housemate. You have to do it anyway, so make it fun and distract yourself by any means necessary. The same applies to anything that you don't like doing but you have to finish.

Maybe you're one of the lucky ones who don't have attacks of nostalgia, and if so, I look forward to reading an entry explaining how you do it. Even though I can avoid it, I'd still rather miss them than forget about them.

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