Dépaysement is a French word that holds a very powerful meaning, one concerning that disorientation we might in certain occasions feel, upon change. Languages tend to be funny like that, being some terms, feelings or situations only described to perfection by words in specific languages, while many others are unable to provide that blissful explanation for those feelings we might be dealing with at certain times.
I have come to realize that having no term that is able to put into words exactly what we might be feeling, can be very frustrating, creating a big gap or disconnection in between our heart and our mind. Giving a name to what we go through, can sometimes help process things better, since it is always easier to deal with those feelings we understand, opposite to situations where we do not know exactly what is going on. Today I am here, because I wanted to give you an exact term on a feeling that I am sure you have dealt with more than once, one that maybe you have not been able to put exactly into words until now, one that I hope will help you heal better in the future, if you ever need it.
Dépaysement is a word that I have felt quite often in my life, one that talks about the breakage with those habits we have acquired by living in a specific place, when creating new habits in a new environment. It also means the disorientation that comes with those changes, making us feel strange, lost and sad, like we do not belong, like we are somehow “foreign”, not just by our passport, but also as people, as souls. That feeling telling you to run away fast, on the other direction, because you should have never been there to begin with. The feelings expressed by this word are very powerful, feelings I am sure you might be quite familiar with, if you have ever dared to live abroad or gotten out of your comfort zone, specially when doing it completely alone. Feelings that could be quite obvious at times, in a country like Korea, with traditions and a culture, that can be so different, compared to most of our original ones.
I remember to have felt like this many times before, even on this last trip in which I moved to Korea, it was exactly how I felt during my first weeks or even months and to be honest how I still feel at times, even nowadays. I still remember how I got here, after a very long day of traveling and having embarked on my plane with a big mix of feelings, tears on my eyes after having to leave my friends and family behind one more time, but also halfway in between freaked out and excited about the new adventure I was about to start. Restless not knowing if things were going to work out,or if l was just wasting my time, considering if I might have been making all together a big mistake, or if l would even be happy, without regrets, about what I was doing.
I remember as if it were yesterday, arriving to my rented location after a very tough day and almost 2 days of traveling, since I left my home, Madrid. Arriving half-frozen into a new goshiwon that I had to book last-minute, because the one I had booked when in Spain, was so cold and dirty that I could not stay there. My first hours in Korea were already, at the least, challenging, plus having to move around with tons of luggage on the cold to find a new place did not help boost my mood or confidence. The new place was much more expensive and smaller, but my positive self decided to put a smile on herself and judge the situation with an “at least it is clean and warm”.
I remember entering through the door and leaving my luggage, as I best could, piling it one on top of the other, with only enough strength left to sit on the tinny bit of space left on the floor, of that small shoe box that was about to be my home for the next two months. This is something that felt so depressing at the time, but that I now regard with some kind of nostalgia as a not so bad memory, of my life in Korea. I remember sitting on the tiny spot on the floor shivering and trying to get warmed up by floor heating system and just sit there with my knees bent touching the wall and my back against the piled up suitcases, feeling hungry, tired, overwhelmed and without enough space to move. I took my phone out to check the time and saw my screen saver picture, with some of my friends on it, I was smiling happily on the picture and at that exact moment, feeling like it had all been too much, I just broke into tears, letting them roll silently down my cheeks and restlessly wondering if l had done the right thing, or if I had just made a big mistake and should have just stayed with what I knew.
During the time prior to my trip and specially after getting into the plane I had been constantly wondering about consequences. I wondered if I was being selfish for leaving the ones I love behind, once again, just to go search for my dream, I wondered if working in fashion and creating a life I was proud of, as I wished to do, was a big enough reason for not being able to be present when they might need me or in any hard situations that might come along the way. I wondered if I should just have settled with my life, as it was not bad, it was already a good enough one, considering that I should feel extremely lucky when comparing with many other people around the world. I considered if in an already difficult situation, I should have taken one more risk, making it maybe even more difficult for myself, without knowing it, or if taking that risk and trying to go that extra mile was the right choice, since I might also deserve to have something that makes my eyes sparkle and not settle for just anything, without fighting for my dreams first.
I wondered if I was doing the right trying, if the cost for my “selfish” happiness could end up being as high as it sometimes can be. What if something were to happen when I am not there and I am unable to come back on time, what about all the things that could go wrong or I am going to miss, all those gather ups, my family growing, my friends achieving goals, the life that I will miss, all those good and bad situations, perhaps last opportunities that I do not even know they were the last. I am sure most of you have probably been through a similar situation, that inflection point into ones life, after choosing to take a 360 degree turn into our path. As many of you might have already conquered, or might, like me, still be trying to figure out, I was aiming to find my balance, how much should I compromise, how much am I allowed to risk, how much could I try to do to become happy, without hurting anyone, specially those whom I love, along the way. Where my balance lays, is something that at times I have yet to find.
The first weeks were very intense, trying to get used to many things, from the weather, to not even being able to read, hearing extremely foreign sounds all the time and not even knowing how much should something cost or how much money worth exactly, was I carrying without having to think hard about it. I was trying to visit as much as I could when my schedule and the weather allowed it, I remember being very cold and very lost, not even knowing where I should eat nor how to order, but I also remember being excited, seeing everything for the first time, being mesmerized by even the tiniest things, wanting to see, look and taste as much as I could. To carve everything in my mind like a picture, so I would never forget exactly what I was feeling.
This is probably one of the most addictive parts about traveling, specially when doing it by yourself, your new set of eyes. The way you look at everything, as if you were looking at things for the first time, even things that we usually do not pay attention to in our own country, like a mere subway cart, seem completely and utterly special for a moment once again. That honest and pure reaction that we have, just like kids, the feelings of seeing the world as if you had just arrived on it, is probably my favorite part about traveling, probably one of the things that has made me a nomad who has until now lived in 5 different countries.
Even with the excitement, self-doubt is never out of the picture when you take risks and my first couple of weeks I kept on waking up exactly at 5 am, without the need of an alarm, (extraordinary fact being one of those almost punishment of a friend that needs 6 alarms to wake up during that summer vacation trip). Waking up at this time made me even more disoriented and most days tired by 12, but unable to do anything about it, I took those moments to talk to my loved ones, which made me miss them even more. They were all worried, writing me every day and sending messages about how things were going, which at times made me want to take a plane back to “where I belonged”.
One of those days, I received an email from my friend Laura, titled exactly like this blog, dépaysement, and I somehow knew it would hold the power to change the way I was looking at things. I opened the email almost swallowing tears, since I could feel the weight of the words by just reading the first sentence, I was not wrong. My friend was mentioning how brave I was for always fighting for what I believe in, for trying to improve and learn new things every day and not just accommodate myself with what I already know. She praised me for being daring, caring and strong, most of the things that I felt like I was lacking and was blaming myself for at the time.
Just like traveling to a place for the first time, she gave me a new set of eyes on the situation and the way I evaluated myself, helping me realize that everything is not always as we see it or feel it and we might just need those caring words to realize that. Different people have different thoughts, but it gave me courage to know that someone I loved and cared for, was able to see those things in me, even when I was unable to see them for myself, it made me proud for having chosen such beautiful and valuable friends that held my back even thousands of miles away. It made me feel thankful for having people I can count on even across the globe, and it made my shoulders and chest sit a bit higher of what they had been for the first couple weeks here.
With this, I wanted to tell you all that you are fighters too, no matter how you might feel now or at certain times, you are a fighter, a strong soul that independently of the motives to come here, had enough courage to get out of their comfort zone, and go live and learn somewhere else, where things are not always easy but where we still have the potential to build greatness. Because greatness does not lay in a specific place, greatness lays among every single one of us, greatness is inside you.
This is dedicated to all of you, myself included, for those moments of despair, sadness or frustration, for those moments when you are lost in translation, when you face hardships and you do not really know what to do, for all those times when you question if you made the right decision or if you should have just stayed “where you belong” without risking, but also for those moments when you are laughing and you can feel the happiness coming out of every inch of your skin, for those moments when you conquer a situation that you had not been able to overcome before and you realize that yes you can do it, yes you are strong and at that same instant everything becomes worth it.
It is dedicated to all my friends and family that stand behind every step I take, to those friends that I made here, the ones that have stayed and the ones that left and might be suffering from dépaysement themselves, being back at home again, because against popular beliefs, you can also feel disoriented and out-of-place at “home” too.
So if you ever feel that dépaysement, that disorientation where you feel hurt and lost, I want to give you encouraging words that will make you curl your fists and look up, keeping your head straight with enough energy, to conquer the world. I want you to know that no matter where you are, we all feel like that, I want you to know that you are not alone, even when you might feel completely and utterly lonely when surrounded by oceans of people.
I want you to know that what you might be feeling is dépaysement, but also I want to tell you, who has dared and adventured to travel, not just for a couple of days in a selected location, but truly to have gone somewhere to live, like everybody else does, that you might be feeling sad at times, but at one point you will realize it was somehow worth it, because of all the things you have learned, because of being able to prove yourself and overall because you will never be the same. You will change or you probably already have changed, but I want to assure you it is a good thing, because you have created a bigger and broader soul for yourself, you might have created beautiful memories or experienced new things, and also you will have learned about all the things that were hard and might not have gone like you wanted them to.
For all that, my dear fighter, I want to tell you to be proud of yourself. You have conquered many battles and you will be able to conquer many more, while looking at the world from a whole new place, which is already something that not everyone will be able to do.