Tuesday, January 19, 2010

6 Simple Steps?

People ask me how I'm doing. I respond, "I'm adjusting."
I make small-talk about the weather differences of France versus California, and how I just can't get acclimated to the cold and snow. But really, there's a whole lot I can't get acclimated to here. Inside, I'm thinking, if only that were the half of the truth. I'm just going to say what the independent, 25 year-old, who craved a challenge and an opportunity to prove her strength, isn't supposed to say: I’m kinda-sorta-absolutely miserable here.
My dad flew out of Sacramento the same day I left LAX to accompany me during this journey and aide in the transition (Though, I’m sure the prospect of traveling was probably appealing, as well). It was like he was holding my hand and walking me up to the door on the first day of school (I may still be a daddy's girl). During the first couple of weeks here, there were a lot of interesting situations (for lack of a better word) with the family, the kids, the train stations, and the French, but having him just a bus-ride away, in downtown Lyon, made it all seem manageable. He took my side, shared my frustrations, and cracked jokes to lessen the tension. Last Friday, he left for Dublin, en route back home to California. The real adjustment has now begun.
Saturday, reality hit, and it hit hard. This place just isn't me. Granted, that's probably the objective of trying on an experience in a foreign country and foreign culture, but this one isn't my size. Given that I studied abroad in Paris and fell in love with it on prior vacations, I came to France with certain expectations of what it would be like. It's nothing like that. I wanted to get out of the suburbs of Orange County. I moved to the suburbs of Lyon. I was under the impression that I was only ten minutes from the center of Lyon. I am, but by car, which apparently is not for my use on the weekends. The car comes with the kids as some sort of packaged deal (maybe to make them somewhat appealing?). In actuality, downtown takes about 40 minutes to get to. Walk to the bus stop, take the bus to the connecting bus to the metro to downtown. It's quite the to-do, making my desire to explore downtown, non-existent. I went from being socially isolated in a law-firm to being socially isolated in a stranger's home, except here I'm unable to get my "people fix" at Starbucks.
Since I’m on a role, I’ll continue…
The family, in my opinion, doesn't feel accommodating. Instead, they seem critical and, well, French. I'm 25 going on 15. Granted, I have my own room and bathroom, which I do appreciate, but in both of those, I have no shelf, cabinet or closet space for any of my belongings, as they are occupied with all of their stuff. And if you were wondering (which you should be), living in a bedroom, circa 1981, with its royal blue carpet, mismatched furniture and faded floral curtains, isn't as fantastical as one would assume. I was not expecting a Pottery-Barn-catalog-worthy room, but this feels like the place where thrift store items go to die.
The food: All of the people who talk about how great it will be to eat bread and cheese, and drink wine all day are idealizing. They'll only end up constipated and sleepy. There's something to be said about a well-balanced meal. Here's the thing: I love fresh food. I don't love processed food from a box; especially boxed instant mashed potatoes. I love being able to taste vegetables. I don't love them purred and drowned in a sea of creme-fraiche. Some nights, dinner is decent; other nights, it's manageable, but there are those times when the food tastes like it belongs in a Kleenex. Coincidently, that is where it ends up. Thank goodness for care-packages.
I'm trying to abandon the black and white thinking and stay optimistic that this experience will pay off, that the travel will make up for it, that the misery will fade, but I seem to be coming up short. And when I still don't have my luggage after three weeks, I wondering if, maybe my luggage doesn't even want to commit. All of my normal outlets for relieving stress are absent here, and I find myself, the proverbial morning person, wanting to sleep in order to escape reality. Like I said, it's not me.
I know setbacks are only temporary.(Though, c’mon, exactly how long is temporary?) so I’m keeping the “simple” techniques of Positive Psychology in mind.
1. Remember the hard times. Realizing that you made it through those tough times will reveal your strength.

2. Let it all out. Queue the blog. Done and done.
3. Write down good things. "Use good old corny gratitude like a drug." Queue Daily Gratitude’s. Check.
4. Be your own defense attorney. This suggests that every time you catch yourself thinking in a melodramatically negative way, like "I can never do anything right" or "This relationship ('situation' in my case) sucks", present yourself with cold hard evidence to the contrary.
5. Exercise. It triggers the release of endorphins and lifts your mood, lowers the blood pressure reaction to stress, and leads to a better night's sleep. Check.
6. Find something to love. Spend time with close friends.
So, maybe there’s still hope. Maybe I could get used to the royal blue carpet.


  1. oh lauren, i'm sorry! i could tell from your other posts that you weren't having the greatest time, or an experience even close to what you were expecting, but i didn't realize you were feeling this bad! it sounds like a shitty situation, but i think it will get better with time. that tends to happen with craptastic abroad experiences, judging by the way most of my friends' times went. I know shipping is kinda pricey, but i'd LOVE to send you some lightweight goodies, prob from TJs! can you message me your address?

  2. Oh, I'm thinking of you! Can I just say, first of all, what a great writer you are?! I was so engaged with this. I know it sucks right now, and you are describing it so perfectly. I can see it all clearly. I think it's really hard to admit to having a hard time (with anything, really). This is no different. I hope there was some relief from the release (go Oprah?). I guess it's true that happy people can see the temporary-ness of ruts. I'm not very good at this. Ha. It seems like you are giving it your all in terms of trying to stay optimistic. You are definitely keeping your sense of humor. Forget about how you're supposed to feel about this adventure. If it's not what you thought, it's not what you thought. I don't think anyone reading this would not understand your feelings...
    Email me with some of your TJ's favorites...and your address!

  3. Aw I'm sorry things are so hard. It's no wonder though, any transition like this is going to be difficult. It does sound less than ideal but I agree with your mom, it would be a good idea to talk to the family about things like closet space. After that at least you could say you did everything you could to make it work, right? I think you're doing really well :) and I can send you things from the UK if you can think of anything you'd like, the postage wouldn't be that much for me.

  4. Rachel B. (Bernstein)January 19, 2010 at 5:01 PM

    I'm sorry things are tough right now- But I'm think of you daily and hope that things will take a turn for the better and SOON! I downloaded skype, but I have to figure out how to use it, haha! So when I do, lets have a skype date!! : ) Miss you LOTS!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. I know downtown Lyon seems far but make the effort to go in and make friends! There is a huge anglophone community in Lyon if you need to escape the intensity of the French. Obviously, you should be speaking French but everyone needs a break. Wallace Bar in Vieux Lyon is great. They have quiz nights on Thursdays in English (and French) and there's a great mix of young people from all over the world. Just a suggestion. Just remember you just got there! It will get better :)