The Beauty and the Beast of Nostalgia
Most expats are familiar with nostalgia. Sometimes it comes to us gently; other times it hits us hard. And though we can usually identify the feeling as a bittersweet longing for a time gone by, the triggers and details are deeply personal.
Acknowledging our nostalgia and sharing it can bring us one step closer to making peace with it… which is why we’re delighted to share this story from Alkmini, an expat in London, who talks about the beauty and the beast hidden within her nostalgia.
Has this ever happened to you? I’ve always wanted to ask other expats.
You’ve had a great day… Maybe you went for a long walk by the river, which led to pizza and cocktails with special friends, before you headed home to watch a movie with your favourite person on earth.
And then, before going to bed, you quickly check Facebook… and see that everyone “back home” is celebrating a national holiday, one you’ve missed year after year because you’ve been abroad. Suddenly your happy day feels ruined. You feel miserable and you realise you’d give 100 pizzas for just an hour of that celebration.
If you’ve experienced this – or anything similar – you know how nostalgia feels.
Now, it’s not that nostalgia is new to me. I remember my 10-year-old self being nostalgic for summers in my grandparents’ yard and endless ice cream. I also remember my older self experiencing nostalgia for my student years and old friends.
My expat nostalgia, though, is less sweet and more of a “nostalgia beast”, as one of my favourite singers describes it. Since becoming an expat, I feel a painful nostalgia almost every day. I’m nostalgic for my hometown, its colours, smell, sounds and people. I’m also nostalgic for my loved ones, their joy and tears, hugs and fears.
Most of all, I am nostalgic for the self who was a part of all of that, and for how I felt there: happy, relaxed, safe, that I belonged.
Sometimes my nostalgia comes and goes, but most often the beast stays with me for days – especially on those cold summer days, when the rain won’t stop and I’ve just gotten back from a lovely break on a small island in my home country.
But it also comes at unexpected times… like evenings at my parents’ house, which is full of people I love insanely. I start feeling nostalgic for every moment that passes – even though I am still there.
The reason I rarely talk about these feelings is that I’ve found that nostalgia is highly personal and individual. To me, nostalgia is deeply embedded in one’s soul, memories and experiences, which means even the most empathetic person may struggle to grasp the details. I’ve come to believe that everyone carries their own nostalgia; that this beast has many forms.
I’ve also realised that we cannot simply order ourselves to “stop feeling nostalgic”. Instead, acknowledging nostalgia is a great start to winning it over. Acceptance will help us accept the beast in our expat lives and find the beauty in it…
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© Vivian Chiona
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