Being Real: New Country Sadness and the Importance of Routine

Let's start by saying that there is no 'perfect' place. I've lived in four different countries now, Italy being my fourth, and I have a long list of pros and cons for each of them. At least at this stage in my life, I haven't found the 'perfect location' where I love everything about the country and have no complaints.

That being said, I have to be honest: I don't really like Palermo. 

To take a bit of responsibility, I have to admit that before arriving, I didn't do much research about the city. I had planned to be in Japan, so with all the plans changing, I didn't have much time to do a deep dive on the do's and don'ts, or see reviews about what the city was like from online blogs. All I had was the testimony of a few upperclassmen who had been there for their Erasmus exchanges, and they all gave the city glowing reviews, some even going back during long weekends or vacations just to explore the city again. So, with this said, I was hopeful for a fun filled and relaxing semester in Sicily. 

What I didn't expect was garbage piled high in the streets, the wild goose chase I'd go on trying to get my class schedule, the Sicilian men catcalling me from across the street, and the horror stories from other female students warning me to not travel alone at night. 

During one of my first classes, a homeless man walked up and down the street for 35 minutes screaming so loudly my teacher struggled to talk over him. As I walked home one late afternoon, a car beeped at me twice, then did a turn to come pull up beside me as a man came out. I was so scared I immediately called my boyfriend and shared my location in case something were to happen to me.

My naive image of Italy as a romantic, fairytale place crumbled right before my eyes and, in all honesty, I didn't take it well.

I fell into a deep depression. I felt alone despite being surrounded by people partying every night. I went to more social gatherings my first ten days than I had done in Dijon the entire year, yet I had this horrible emptiness inside of me, and I felt so deeply unhappy that it started to leak into all areas of my life. 

I would cringe when Italians asked me the dreaded 'Do you like Palermo?' question as small talk. I learned that this question was functionally the same as someone asking 'How are you?': you're supposed to speak positively, not actually say if you're feeling miserable, or it makes it awkward for everyone. 

I wanted to take the next flight back to France, but since I couldn't leave without losing the progress I've made so far towards my degree, I was forced to stay. Now I was trapped and unhappy, a horrible combination. A lot of tears were shed, there were a few days where I couldn't even bear to talk to my own boyfriend because I dreaded recounting my day.

Recently, I came to a conclusion: I don't like it here, and that's okay. This situation is temporary. 

My acceptance of my situation doesn't make me any more peaceful, but it prompted me to draw some boundaries for my own sanity. 

Class attendance isn't mandatory? Okay, then rather than walk an hour a day to go to and from class, I'll simply read the slides at my desk and stay home. 

Feeling lonely even in the most crowded places? Okay, I'll travel in packs with my friends and go out only when I really want to, not because I feel pressured or socially burdened. 

Every day, I try to choose things that make me happy, even if that means I'm a bit more isolated. 

I created a little routine at my home. I set up my desk with plants, my notebook, and my laptop, and each day I get to work on some kind of task, whether that be language studies or reading for my thesis, and I stay in my safe places. Sometimes, I plan a day where I go to a cafĂ© or check out the shops, but I space these events around the padding of self care and a slower life pace. 

It's not everyone's idea of what to do here in Palermo, but it's what makes me feel happiest.

As I wrap up this post, I'll add a small note: where there is rain, there is also a rainbow. 

This post would not be complete without mentioning the people that helped me keep my head above water during this whole period, whose companionship has given me some positive things to say about this experience. My roommates and my friends have put a smile on my face more times than I can count, and when I was holding back tears, a calm conversation or funny joke was the difference between a 'good' and 'bad' day.

I've met so many incredible people here this month, and for that I am really grateful. I got to go to a graduation, decorate a new apartment, see the ocean, and get to know a whole new international group.

So that's the plan! I'm going to stick with my routine, focus on myself, and before I know it, four months will have flown by.

... I hope!