Gratitude Friday: The Swiss Pharmacy

Post by Lauren

One thing I am recently grateful for is the Swiss Pharmacy. I had a few prescriptions I had been dreading taking in. I was almost positive the interaction was going to go badly with my French skills.

However, it turned out to be one of my most pleasant experiences yet!

I walked in and presented my four prescriptions, including one for crutches (yes, you have to have a prescription to get crutches).

The guy took my prescriptions, typed it in the computer quickly and walked back and got them all out of separate drawers that the computer indicated. In less than 5 minutes. For four prescriptions and crutches! How awesome is that?

This particular pharmacy handed my prescriptions back with their stamp on them and a receipt. So, I have to bring it back in for refills. Not a big deal.

What else should you know?

–In Switzerland, you must have a prescription from a Swiss doctor to get medicine. You cannot use a prescription from a different country.

–You must file the claim with your insurance to get funds back, this isn’t taken out up-front.

–They do not keep your prescription on file in a computer for easy transfer on refills. They either give it back to you, or file your prescription and make a tick mark when you use one.

–If you are visiting or new here to Switzerland, you should note that grocery stores and convenience stores don’t sell OTC medicines like they do in the States. You have to go into a Swiss pharmacy. But don’t worry – there are a ton of them, one on every corner. When we first moved, our real estate agent jested that she had a client once assume the Swiss were more sick because of the presence of so many pharmacies. Not so; just a different system. Kinda like how you can by alcohol or beer at the grocery store in some US states and not others.

–There may be a Swiss Pharmacy on every corner, but they are not open after 6pm or on Sundays. You can always go to the airport pharmacy if you are in a bind!

–The Swiss pharmacy has over the counter meds as well as high end lotions like L’Occitane.

–This Swiss pharmacy doesn’t have all types of OTC medicines that Americans are used to. If you are an expat, bring 2 years worth of your favorite cold, tummy, and painkiller medicines. Sometimes when you are sick, its easier to just have what you know and like vs. navigate the best substitution in a foreign language.

 

Navigating International Insurance and The Swiss Clinique

Post by Lauren

In Switzerland, you don’t go to the hospital for planned procedures such as delivering a baby or foot surgeries. You go to a Clinique. No, not like the make-up counter. A Clinique is like a cross between a doctors office and a hospital. And then add in a little high end hotel.

In Switzerland, they are very cautious. They don’t take chances. So, I wasn’t surprised when my doctor indicated that I would need to come in the night before to spend the night at the Clinique. Nor was I surprised when I found out I would stay four nights there.

I had a bit of trouble trying to convince my US-based insurance of this.

These conversations took place over the course a week, but I have condensed it for you as well as deleted the multiple tear-sessions by yours truly that they induced:

“Hi. I need a guarantee of payment because the hospital either needs this or 20,000 swiss francs from me upfront*. I had been told that I should contact your agency to secure this documentation if a need ever arose.”

“Okay…we can help you. Please tell us what you are having done.”

“I have severe arthritis in my toes. I need a chilectomy and an osteotomy. This was supposed to be done in March, but my surgeon just fit me into a cancellation spot and the operation will be next week. Sorry for the short notice but I really need this quickly.”

“Okay we will work on this. No problem.”

(days pass)

“Hello. I want to check on the status of my guarantee of payment. My surgery is in four days.”

“Ma’am, these things take time. Likely another week before you will hear back.”

“But I don’t have time!!! I just got an appointment with a world renowned surgeon who just had a cancellation. My feet hurt…I am in pain…I have guests coming……I can’t wait until late Spring!”

“Wait, Ma’am. Why do your feet hurt? We have noted you were having a colon operation”.

(lots of resulting explanation occurs)

“We don’t understand….why do you have to stay in the hospital so many days? In the US, we see in our computer that this is outpatient”.

“I agree….but I live in Switzerland. If you have a baby here you stay in the Swiss Clinique 7 days while in the US its 48 hours. I am not going to get a surgeon to operate on me and release me. Since you specialize in international medical insurance, doesn’t the computer indicate this is different in certain countries?”

“You’ll have to get your surgeon to write us a letter saying why you have to spend the night. Maybe you can make an appointment with him to write the letter.”

“It took me 3 months to get my first appointment with him!! Plus his office is closed…. its “Ski Week”** in Switzerland! Every person in Switzerland is on vacation. There is no way he can get this done in the timeline.”

“You must. Or NO guarantee letter for you.”

(frantic calls and detective work to find doctors’ personal contact info. Many butchered French conversations and Google translated emails later, I contact the doctor over email and he agrees to do the paperwork and fax it on his vacation)

(call insurance company Friday to confirm they get his fax he sent the day before)

“Ma’am, it takes 48 hours for faxes to reach our computer system. You’ll have to get back to us in 48 business hours. Monday end of day, maybe.”

(2 more days)

“Hello. You are working on my case. You should have received the doctors letter by now. Just checking on the status.”

“Ma’am, be advised that your case is with the medical review committee. These things take 10-15 business days. Please check back then. ”

(Supposed to be admitted the next day. I loose my s&^% on the insurance company)

Later that day, I got my letter. Thank goodness.

And no wonder that the insurance questions it. Here is just a cross section of my meals while staying in the Swiss Clinique, all standard:

 

 

 

A dessert also came around at 2pm each day with coffee.  The cream was always steamed and piping hot.

Sparkling water is on demand. Oh, and I can’t forget the Swiss made pen we got as a gift:

Regarding forms and documentations, EVERYTHING, must be translated from French in order for me to understand and sign. All pre-op, insurance, and post-op instructions. Google Translate has really been a good friend of mine lately. I’ll no longer complain about having to fill out paperwork in my first language.

Speaking of French, communication at the Clinique has been a bit challenging. Of course, I do not expect that the staff know English at all since this is a French-speaking country. And I do study French regularly. However, in medical situations: explaining levels of pain, what is wrong, and interpreting post op instructions clearly, it can be a bit challenging.

The first time they were trying to teach me how to walk with my stabilizing boots and crutches to get to the bathroom, I couldn’t do it. We tried to communicate in my tres mal français where to put the weight so I could improve my technique. I kept misunderstanding, so it took a while to master.

I have been improving because my roommate is a Swiss woman in her mid-seventies who is very chatty. She told me I can come visit her at her house when I can walk and we can talk French again.

In summary, the medical care is FANTASTIC here. If you think you might undergo any type of procedure in Switzerland, just be prepared for battles with your insurance and a crash course in French translation.

*All doctors offices and visits require upfront payment in Switzerland. You then have to file the claim and track your reimbursement with your insurance. Believe me, it’s a ton of fun. Don’t blame them though…a smart business practice.

**Our friends had their baby in the same Clinique as me this same week (so nice to have visitors!). They were supposed to have a C-section on Monday, but BOTH their primary doctor and his back up were injured while skiing during Ski Week. They had to push their delivery up a day so that the 3rd doctor could fit it in, apparently the only one in the practice who wasn’t injured during Ski Week. And yes, they stayed 7 days in the Clinique as well with their newborn!

Gratitude Friday: New Bionic Toes

Post by Lauren

Today, I am grateful for my new bionic toes. Yesterday, I had a successful operation in which the surgeon performed two procedures on both of my big toes. The procedures are a osteotomy and chilectomy.

The purpose of the chilectomy was to remove the arthritis that has been causing me pain, restricting my sports activities, and literally cramping my style for the last 5 years….seriously, you should see how many cute pairs of shoes I have had to give away*.

During a chilectomy, they scrape the arthritis of the joint. Also, the surgeon drills into the toe joint to clean out the arthritis inside the bone. Kind of like getting a “filling” on your tooth. Except for the fact that they let the foot heal itself by developing scar tissue. The scare tissue isn’t as good as normal cartilage but better than the pain-causing arthritis.

The chilectomy isn’t guaranteed that the arthritis won’t reform in the future, so the osteotomy was done to help my odds at a preventing its re-growth. In the osteotomy, the surgeon takes out a wedge of bone in the toe joint near where the arthritis was bad. The goal is that this shifts my weight from where the arthritis damaged the cartilage to an area where there is healthier cartilage. On the right side, he ended up breaking an additional bone to supplement the osteotomy and to reconstruct the foot as my cartilage was entirely missing from the silly arthritis. He affixs his work with a screw in each foot.

If you are curious, you can YouTube the procedures. However, a word of warning….Gabe did this one day and says its gross.

The foot igloo

I am grateful for being able to have the opportunity for surgery. Although its not fun that I won’t be able to walk for 3 months, not everyone has the insurance and healthcare available where they live to address issues like this.

While I have long given up the idea of running again, I am just glad that this surgery will eventually make me pain free in day-to-day activity.

Bon weekend, everyone!

* If you don’t believe me, please look at the type of shoes I had to wear on my wedding day. Birkenstocks!!!

*Luckily, I have a dear friend who has my shoe size. She continually has to justify to her husband that she didn’t buy the 10 pairs of shoes that magically appear in her closet every few months…they were sent by Lauren, in waves of realization she’ll never wear them again

Gratitude Friday: My Health

This Friday, I want to dedicate this post to my health.

Just in general, I am thankful to feel good. I realize this is quite a special thing. I have no major health problems (except needing a really simple foot surgery) and I feel better than I have right now, than I have in a long time.

I also wanted to take this post to explain my rationale for why I feel better.

First of all, I have less stress here. I explain it to others that my stress is mainly short term. A bad day is not being able to communicate or having an issue buying snow chains. Those go away fast when I either laugh it off or have multiple glasses of wine. And while I enjoyed my full time job that I had in the States, it provided more “long term” stress, as most jobs do. So this major health affecter has lessened for the meantime until I start working again.

Second of all, I think a lot of it actually is rooted in food. My husband has been on this bandwagon for a long time, but this has taken me a long time to admit the cause/effect. I am now fully there. I just had to be forced to feel the difference in my body.

Here are a few reasons why I think my body feels better with the food here:

–In Europe, they don’t really eat processed food that has been manufactured for convenience, not for nutritional value.

–In Europe, they don’t have a lot of “shortcut” food like low fat and sugar substitute types. No diet ice cream here or fat free pastries here, folks. It’s the real deal.

–In Europe, genetic engineering of animals is illegal.

–In Europe, basically all the produce is organic by nature, they don’t use chemicals or alter the seeds in any way as is done in the States.

–In Europe, it is taboo to “eat on the go” or eat while walking, so it makes for more conscious meal enjoyment.

And its not just me. This topic has come up various times with friends here. One friend reported that she felt gross the entire time she visited the US for Christmas because her stomach had grown used to Switzerland’s foods and it couldn’t take the processed ingredients anymore. It was rejecting them. Another friend commented that she couldn’t cut the chicken into bits for a recipe at her mother’s house because the texture was so unlike the chicken she has become accustomed to here. Just this week, I met a lady who dropped 10 pounds in her first few weeks living here this Fall because of the positive change of the food.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I recommend two forms of media. The first is the book Food Matters, which I read with my book club. It encourages conscious food consumption to protect the environment. My two takeaways were:
–Buy things with less packaging
— Try to cut your meat intake in half to lesson the environmental impact that big business meat farming has. After reading the book, I did cut down my meat intake, using nuts and beans to replace half my protein. I didn’t really miss it.

Also, Gabe and I are big proponents of the movie Food, Inc which outlines the danger of the current systems of agriculture. It suggests that we are on a slippery slope; our concern with producing food at less cost for masses of people has altered the food in a way that makes it unhealthy. It suggests that government subsidizing of our food supply creates a few harmful scenarios.

–For example….beef and corn manufacturers lobby the government for subsidies and thus, beef and corn are more affordable in the US. Thus, a typical mid-range US family can’t afford fresh vegetables but can stock up on sodas, packaged foods and other things contained corn oil, etc that might not be a balanced diet, creating health issues. Many US families literally can’t afford to eat healthy.

–Also, in the case of meat, the demand for certain types of meat has encouraged genetic manipulation so that we are raising animals that meet the demand. One of the most disturbing scenes in Food, Inc. is one in which a chicken continually stumbles and falls over…all because he was designed for a breast bigger than he could manage.

 

 

 

However, even after seeing this 3 years ago, my coupon-cutting-self continued to scoop up only the large chicken breasts at the local Charlotte grocery store, as every 6 weeks, they were Buy 1, Get 2 Free. So I could get 3 huge packs of chicken for $9 USD total.

It’s only now that the cost equation has been taken out, as well as I am not given a choice – its forbidden to alter the meat production here – that am I now consistently eating “normal” food. Eight months later, I can feel an incredible difference. When we move back, I am going to certainly prioritize buying grass-fed, non-antibiotic meat items and organic vegetables.

Finally, the healthcare is very good here. It is very holistic in nature. I saw my first “general” doctor this week, in an attempt to solve the Cambodia food mystery. She spent an hour with me – asking every single question possible. Asking detailed family history. Information about every health issue I have ever had. Detailed questions about every part of it. It was like she had all day. But she was trying to get at the root instead of solve my surface issue.

My Swiss chiropractor does acupuncture before adjusting as a standard part of the visit. Also, he doesn’t require a pyramid of visits like my US guy did…simply just tells me to make an appointment when I hurt again. In the US, I had chiropractor appointments twice a week, acupuncture once a week and massage every three weeks to try to fix the chronic back pain that I carried – I was spending about $500/month in pain management.

In the last 8 months living in Switzerland, I have only had two visits to the chiropractor and one massage for back issues. I think its a combination of less stress & natural food that has been the remedy. Those who have seen me during my visits say that I look like a different person because of the lack of pain.

And we haven’t had a single cold here since our move. Those who know me well know that I always caught things so this is a big turnaround. This surprised me as well because of how often I am riding in public transportation, sharing air and touching buttons. However, I think its the stress and food that are helping to build my immunity.

Today’s post is not meant to be anti-US. These methods exist in the US, but they have become harder to find because of the effects of food and healthcare economics. I was lucky enough to discover it only by it being the default for us, so I just want to share my firsthand story with two encouragements:
1) If possible financially for you, don’t buy genetically engineered meat.
2) Seek doctors with holistic approaches. It can make a world of difference.

Bon weekend, everyone!

 

Going to the foot doctor: Part Deux

Post by Lauren

One of my favorite stories to date about ex-pat life is trying to go to the doctor and actually going ending up at the pedicurist. I bet you are wondering what happened with that?

I did find and visited a surgeon who spoke English but later got some discouraging feedback so I wasn’t too thrilled about going under the knife with this guy.

I was referred to a holistic doctor in hopes that maybe we could try some orthopedic therapy to alleviate pain and possible prevent surgery.

I tried to go to her last Monday. It was the first day of the new TPG schedule (public transport system). Let’s just say it was catastrophic. This doctor operates out of her house in the middle of nowhere. The connecting bus I was supposed to ride into the countryside for 52 minutes showed up 35 minutes late. In the torrential rain. Once I knew I was going to be late, I called and left a message in broken French. As soon as I boarded the bus going to the middle of nowhere, she called back. And informed me I simply couldn’t come tardy…she had another patient. Great, I was already headed to nowhere. By the time I got back on the reverse bus ( that only runs once an hour ) and made my connection home, it had been 3 hours and 15 minutes. In the rain, for nothing. Let’s just say, it wasn’t a good day for me. I hate being late and also disappointing people. I also don’t like rain. It was a trifecta of bad. This is what it looked like*:

After receiving a scolding of a missed appointment and asking if I could actually show up this time, I made another appointment. I made it at 1:30pm so I was less likely to be delayed by rush hour or whatever TPG horror there was in store for me. I left a whole hour earlier to catch the early country bus out of fear of the TPG being screwy.

After my 75 minute journey on the bus, I hit the signal for stop. The bus driver didn’t hear it and dropped me off at the next stop. It was over a mile past my stop. Those who follow me on Facebook who that this has happened before. I had complained about back-tracking 15 minutes in the rain that time. But I didn’t know, it could get worse. This is what it looked like**:

It was curvy and there were no sidewalks. I almost got hit 3 times. Honked at five. An old man pulled over and told me in French to please get out of the snow and get inside his car. He looked harmless but I decided the snowy country roads were better.

By the time I walked 45 minutes backwards on the side of the road, I had soaked shoes, but made it by 1:30. Thank goodness. Couldn’t take a lecture this time.

She was really nice. She did a treatment but concluded that I need surgery based on how the arthritis has progressed. Good. I already had another surgeon appointment in 8 weeks. He supposedly is the best and it took me 3 months to get the appointment. Let’s hope so. I will plan for nothing short of entertaining.

*The sad Lauren photo isn’t really from the doctor appointment. It was taken at the Boston College game about 3 years ago after we lost and Ferdinand & Isabella made me rush the field with them at their alma mater. It’s the only picture I know where I have a frowny face.

**After the fact, I came home and looked up where I walked from. It was less than 1 km from the border of France. Good thing I didn’t go over…I didn’t have my passport on a routine doctor’s visit.

 

Reason I wish I knew French # 98

Post by Lauren

I need foot surgery. Years of running and exercising with the wrong shoes for my high arches created some issues with my big toes. I have been managing the pain with cortisone shots for the last few years, but don’t want to continue steroid injections as frequently as I have been getting them. So, its time to bite the bullet.

I don’t want to miss out on travel while we are living here in Europe, so I decided that winter in Geneva is going to be my best bet. We have heard winter here can be nasty, so why not opt for my 8-12 weeks of recovery time then? Gabe begs to differ that I’ll miss out on ski season but I suppose I’ll be forced to sit in the chalets sipping delicious chocolate chaud instead. Oh well, there are worse things in life. Besides, have you HAD the hot chocolate here? Out of this world….

I decided that I should probably find a doctor now so I can plan out the surgery. Luckily, we have an agency that is here to help ex-pats like us with finding doctors.

Before we continue, I have an admission. I procrastinate making simple calls like this here in Geneva because I am embarrassed by my French skills. Thus, I am uncomfortable doing errands and calls that I could do in the US four-at-a-time with my hand behind my back. However, I finally called Friday at 4pm, after putting it off all day.

This particular day, I was lucky enough that I got someone who spoke some English.

“Bonjour. Je m’appelle Lauren. I need to find a foot surgeon in Geneva.”

“A what?”

“ A FOOT SURGEON”

( silence )

I muttered, “médecin pour les pieds….chirurgien pour les pieds”

“For your husband?”

“Non, pour moi.”

“It’s called a podologue in french. I will call you back”

“Oh….une podologue. Merci beaucoup!”

She called back later that evening saying there was an appointment Monday. I couldn’t believe my luck. All that putting off and I had an appointment for Monday!

The only other time I went to the doctor here, it was to the chiropractor. He could speak a little English, I could speak a little French. All went fine and I felt great afterwards, but this time, I decided to do a little preparation to make the language gap easier. In addition to the x-rays and detailed medical files I had organized to bring, I worked on a timeline and case history of my feet (the image above). I detailed all the surgery options that my podiatrist and I had considered in the US and listed out my preference. I listed my questions. And then I popped it in Google Translate and printed both, in English and French. That way, if there were any issues with a part of it, I figured I’d know what part there was confusion on and I could do charades or something. A combination of charades and broken French usually works with the maintenance folks who come to the house.

So, this past Monday, I went to the podologue, with my x-rays, my medical files and my special translated letters. I left a bit early, but good thing as the building was a little hard to find. I arrived on time at sat in the really nice office, which resembled a spa. A lady greeted me kindly, “Bonjour, Madame.”

“Bonjour, Madame. Je m’appelle Lauren. J’ai un rendez-vous pour mes pieds”

“Oui, entrez!”

I cut right to the chase and handed her my packet. She studied it, reading my detailed explanation. She looked confused. “J’ai aussi les x-rays” I added and started to hand them to her.

She sighed. “J’ai peut couper vos ongles”.

This means, “I can only cut your toenails.”

Lesson learned: a podologue is actually a person who does pedicures.

She kindly handed me a card of an orthopedie who could do the surgery, located in a town 30 minutes away. But, I’m going to wait a little bit I think to book an appointment. I am trying to scrape all my self esteem off the floor in the foot spa where I left it.

Gratitude Friday: Swiss Water

Post by Lauren

One of my favorite things about Switzerland is the abundance of free yummy water.

Whether you are in an urban area, a small town, or the middle of the countryside, you are sure to find a babbling spout, as can be seen below. You can easily fill your bottle up no matter where you are.

In the US we have things like this but you wouldn’t dare drink out of it. However, here is is 100% safe and super tasty. I have been told the water supply is monitored three times a day to monitor for any abnormalities. From the swissworld site, they quote:

The drinking water that comes out of Swiss taps is as pure as bottled mineral water – and 500 times cheaper.

In a country where everything is expensive, I am grateful for this natural perk.

Bon weekend, everyone!

 

Gratitude Friday: Peace and Healing

Post by Lauren

September is always a reflective time for me. As an American, the anniversary of 9/11 is always one that pulls at the emotional heartstrings and leaves one saddened and in awe of what was lost that day. The people that perished, families broken, and the mental effects on those who survived are always on my mind.

The news coverage of 9/11 and United 93 can be hard to watch as the date falls within three days of the anniversary of my father’s flight that crashed in 1994. So, needless to say, its not an easy month emotionally.

With that being said, this Friday, I wanted to give gratitude for peace and healing. Bad things happen in life. We aren’t promised that life is fair or easy. But, as humans we are blessed with the ability to heal both physically and emotionally. Time heals hearts. Gratitude, love and peace also have healing tendencies on our minds and bodies.

And so this week, I am thankful for these positive forces that we as humans are blessed with, these things that comfort us in bad times. It is part of what gives us comfort. Its part of what allows us to forgive and eventually heal.

Without that, we’d be lost. We’d stay angry and resentful of what is gone, instead of reflecting on gratitude and love for our experiences for what precious time we were given.

Bon weekend, everyone.

The cure for jet lag

Post by Lauren

Transatlantic flights are getting easier with time. In fact, on this latest jaunt to the US and back, it only took one day for the jet lag to wear off, both ways. So glad that I am finally getting the hang of it, and wanted to share my recommendations for those traveling through multiple time zones:

Okay - you got me. This wasn't the plane I took.

From USA to Europe:
Upon landing, try to stay awake as long as possible. No naps. Take a nap and you will get screwy. Try to find sunlight and stay outside in it to start to teach your body about the new time zone. Since I don’t sleep well on the transatlantic flights, usually the max that I can make it is 7pm. This is generally good enough. Take some sort of sleep aid to ensure you can stay asleep as long as your body needs. This is usually about 11 hours for Gabe and I.

From Europe to USA:
Same rule about staying up as long as possible, so you adjust to the new time zone. I can usually make it to 7pm* or 8pm in this case.

Other tips for flying long flights and jet lag:
–Drink lots and lots of water to avoid dehydration. They say that you need an extra cup for every hour you are in the air, but take in as much as you can physically drink . They also usually have a beverage stand in the galley of most large planes. Visit it often to get more liquid intake.
–Eyemasks, earplugs and a neck pillow help me sleep better on the redeyes overseas so that the noise and light doesn’t bother me. I also have a special potion of Tylenol PM + 2 glasses of red wine that assists my ability to sleep. Check out my friend A’s recap of her latest transatlantic flight for more insights and tips.
–Don’t schedule anything important for the first evening of arrival – you will be a zombie and typically not functioning*

*On the night Gabe planned to propose to me (our two year anniversary), we had just landed back into the US from our first introductory trip to Switzerland and I was terribly jet lagged. I fell asleep around 7pm, before he could do it! Luckily it worked just as well the next morning!

 

Why our life looks like the NYSE

Post by Lauren

 

I actually hope that by the time I post this, I am over my down-funk that I have been living in all week.

But I knew that it would likely come…….

In acclimation class, we learned about the various stages of culture shock. This is the true terminology, but I realize that when I use the phrase “culture shock”, it comes across as strong or extreme. I think maybe a better way to describe it is “culture disorientation,” so for the purpose of this blog post, I’ll use that vocabulary.

For those who aren’t familiar, the textbook stages of “cultural disorientation” go like this:

1. Initial excitement
2. Initial anxiety
3. Arrival fascination
4. Initial culture shock
5. Surface adjustment
6. Internal shock
7. Acceptance & adaptation
8. Return anxiety
9. Reintegration shock

However, it is not guaranteed how long you stay in each stage as well as both spouses can be in different stages or move along the continuum at different paces.

Here is a depiction of this with our 8 weeks here in Geneva. The pink is me and the blue is Gabe. I actually don’t even know where we are on the numbered list…..maybe somewhere between 3 and 5.

“How can you be blue in the land of cheese and chocolate?” one might say. “Don’t the Alp views you see daily give you a high all the time?”

We would probably be happy non-stop if it weren’t for culture disorientation – a reaction to the loss and to the ambiguity created by the unknown rules of the new culture. So, at our downturns, some may seem reasonable (we miss friends and family) but some others may seem a little silly (laundry, not being understood, not understanding).

However, sometimes the little things can have pretty big effects. The textbook explanation is that these little things get at the core of your self image – on how you view yourself as a person. You used to be capable, but in this new situation, you are not. While you were seen one way amongst your community in your home country, in this new country, people react to you and see you differently. While you expect to miss your friends and family, you don’t expect to feel like a different person some days because of your environment.

Here is an example…..after standing in a really long line at the grocery store, I happened to have a zucchini in my basket. When the cashier got to it, I hadn’t known to put a produce sticker on it from the machine in the produce department. So, it didn’t have a barcode for her and she growled some French disdain at me. I didn’t know enough French to explain that I didn’t know and I was sorry, that they could put it back, or I could put it back, whatever was easier to keep the line moving. I just kind of muttered “je suis désolé” which i thought was “I’m sorry” and just stood there pitifully while they got a manager to come take the zucchini, weigh it, bring it back and plop it on the register with even more disdain for me and my idiocy. The people in line behind me gave me exasperated looks like I ruined their day.

And this happens every day – I don’t necessarily get down on myself that I didn’t know how to do things – that is to be expected. But, some of the disorientation comes when people perceive you as something you never believed yourself to be. In the US, that situation would have gone differently for me because I knew the language and norms of my local grocery. I would handled myself fine. And it gives me empathy for those visiting the US and how they are treated if English isn’t their primary language and they are just starting to learn, like I am here.

And of course, the peaks of this experience are well worth these downturns. As I share on Gratitude Fridays, these highs are just incredible. The highs are just balanced by the valleys too; as is life – full of ups and downs.

Like the top photo, I am sure our experience in the end will turn out soaring like this mountain range. However, I just wanted to share a little more on this subject, and it gives me a reason to use PowerPoint, which i miss and used to be really good at 🙂