Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Homesickness and Chocolate

One of the reasons I decided to become a Mom to YFU World Walkers is when I was in high school I wanted to be a foreign exchange student. It was one of those dreams I had to keep to myself, because I knew the response if inquired. My parents were on a limited budget and didn’t have the money to fulfill a dream like this. And, the babysitting money I was saving barely scraped the amount needed; It scarcely paid for the books and art supplies I needed when I went to college.

As a teen, I really liked to travel and saw myself as an adventurer. I was a modern Laura Ingles Wilder rolling across the frontier full of grit and independence mixed with a little quirkiness of Pippi Longstocking; Vivian Lee as Scarlet with her fist up in the air saying: I’m going to lick this; A Marlo Thomas or Mary Tyler Moore career woman in New York City or a Maria Von Trapp portrayed by Julie Andrews singing: “I’ve got confidence...” and marching off to the bus stop with her bag. I admit, during my teen years all of my foreign travels were through books and old black and white movies played on WUAB Channel 43. It was cheap and I didn’t have to ask for permission to travel. Oh the places I traveled to: ancient Greece, Austen’s England, Post War Germany, Ireland, Scotland, India, Mars......

I did travel quite a bit when I was young. My parents took us camping during the summer touring the US. I froze my butt off in San Francisco in a flimsy wind breaker; roasted in the back seat on red vinyl in a non-air condition car to see the Alamo; and did a death march on the Boston Historical tour.

My first adventures without my parents had to be Mohican Camp when I was in sixth grade. Homesickness? I don’t remember missing home. I was too busy tramping around the woods in the snow. Weekend Girls Scout cabin trips with Mrs. Zolar, again I was having a great time earning badges such as cooking, hiking and nature. When I was in cadettes, we went to Washington DC; again I had a great time and still have the Matryoshka doll from the Smithsonian. In senior high, I went on a backpacking trip with a church group. I strapped on the backpack filled with food, sleeping bag and tent for the week. Me and ten other Presbyterian high school students from all around Northern Ohio, again I can’t remember missing home, because I was too busy exploring my different surroundings.

In the fall of 1981, I finally left for college; I couldn’t wait to head for Columbus town – home to the Buckeyes. My first quarter was so busy meeting new friends, studying, dancing until 2:00 am on the weekend and eating terrible cafeteria food – I sometimes forgot to call home. And, back in the early 1980s communicating home was expensive long distance call and not a “click send.”

So when people say they’re homesick it’s a foreign subject for me.

My neighbor told me I was bred to not have homesickness. He’s concluded it’s in my genetic make-up (along with heart disease, ability to roll my tongue and the need for glasses). Personally, I think it goes back to how I saw my self (see the second paragraph). I continue to see my travels away from home as one big adventure. Each time I travel, I need to experience the place down to the minute detail. This has lead to high stressful periods like when I first visited Europe. I tried unsuccessfully cramming as much as possible into every second of the day. Death marches were part of the experience, but then I had trained for in back in Boston. (Tom is a very patient man.) However, I’ve now added food to the mix.

Sure I've missed home, but I’ve found it’s the convenience of home I’m missing. At home, I can rattle off where the coffee shop is; where the art movies are shown; where I can get a great rice pudding; or know the location of the bookshop; and of course I don’t have to figure out where the light switch is. Somewhere down the line, I’ve learned that if I focus on all the conveniences I’m missing from home I won’t find new favorite places to go – like the coffee shop in Luca, the old book store in Tucson and Glastonbury, or the curried Indian food in Kyoto.

Differences? My belief is: if I wanted things to be the same as home why would I spend the money and travel? It would be cheaper to stay at home and watch the travel station.

But, there are some World Walkers do experience homesickness. If you’re considering becoming a World Walker parent for the year, I’ve learned to ask frequently about this feeling – thumbs up day, thumbs in the middle or thumbs down day? Sometimes World Walkers don’t want you’re to know or don’t feel comfortable telling you. But not inquiring about it can lead to an unhappy relationship and a stressful home environment. In other words, it is much better to get it out in the open to deal with than to let it fester the entire year.

I readily suggest offering your World Walker some coping skills. If these don’t work don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to ask for help from another adult. Giving your World Walker other adult non-parent relationships is a powerful framework to help with the growth and well-being of the young person. It’s also research theory based (Search Institute). I’ve had no problems calling my support network to assist me including: my YFU volunteer coordinator (Martha), neighbors, teachers, and school counselors. Finally, try not to wear your feelings on your shoulder if your World Walker decides to tell someone else. It’s about them getting their feelings out and not about you being the bad parent (refer back the Search Institute Work).

Tips you can share with your World Walker:
  • You’re not the first student to feel this way.
  • What are the new experiences you are gaining and can share with friends back home? Do you want to set up a travel blog?
  • Can I help you sign up for a club, choir, band or sport?
  • Have you e-mailed, facebooked your friends and family today? Why don’t you schedule a routine time to call/skype home.
  • At our home and in the US we vent our feelings to help work them out. Thank you for coming to me and sharing your feelings. It’s important to share them rather than keep them inside.
  • It is okay to feel angry, frustrated, sad, foolish, or incompetent here. Everyone feels this way when they start something new.
  • Who have you talked with during class? Why don’t you ask them to lunch, to the game or coffee. I bet the (name) is sitting at home watching the game or tv program; why don’t you call them up and do it together.
When all else fails – offer chocolate to them and have one yourself? I’m not talking about the milk chocolate waxy stuff we have in America. I’m talking the dark rich kind. (Quit laughing.) Chocolate has been proven through research to help reduce stress. Chocolate is high in flavonoids which have been identified as relaxing properties. Chocolate also contains phenethylamine, a chemical that enhances your mood. Researchers have found that eating the equivalent of one average-sized dark chocolate candy bar (1.4 ounces) each day for two weeks reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the “fight-or-flight” hormones known as catecholamines in highly stressed people. (The study, titled “Metabolic Effects of Dark Chocolate Consumption on Energy, Gut Microbiota, and Stress-Related Metabolism in Free-Living Subjects” was published online in the November 13, 2009 Journal of Proteome Research. )

Below is a recipe known as the Chocolate Pflaff. Jan brought this recipe from his home and made it for potluck events.

Chocolate PflaffJan (2009-2010)
Heidelberg, Germany

1 Tasse starker Kaffe (1 cup of dark coffee)
300 g herbe Schokolade darin schmelzen, abkuhlen. (10 oz of melted chocolate)
0,5 L Sahne mit Schnesteif in grosser Schussel schlagen (2 1/2 cups of whipped cream)
Schokolade vorsichtig unter die Sahne heben, mit Mandelsplitter order Schokostreuzen verzieren, kuhlstellen. (Mix the coffee and the chocolate together. Whip the cream. Fold the chocolate mixture into the whip cream gradually)

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