Perhaps it's the early stages of homesickness. Perhaps it's the language difficulties. Whatever it is, a feeling of being uncomfortable and self-conscious has crept over me the past few days.
I was fully prepared for some homesickness to set in once the shock of travel had worn off, but I didn't expect it to happen so soon. In my experience it takes a couple of months to begin and then drags on for several more months. When I first arrived in South Korea in September 2003 I didn't get hit with the first pangs of homesickness until close to Christmas, and it didn't wear off until the following summer.
Of course, Korea is so much more foreign than Russia. The food is vastly different, whereas Russian food is basically the same as it is in the west. The people and the geography and the culture in Korea is very north-east Asian and unlike anything else in the world, whereas those things in Russia are somewhat similar to back home. That's not to say that Russian people and culture are the same, but there are some similarities.
I don't stand out too much in Russia; if I don't open my mouth and I keep a stern look on my face, I can blend in here without much trouble. In Korea, the genetics behind my racial make-up made me stand out no matter where I went! In Russia there is a strong love for individualism while in Korea there was a strong love for being a clone. Also, in Russia, there are lots of trees and parks and European architecture whereas Korea was a land encased in concrete and quickly constructed buildings that all looked alike.
Russia is different than the west in many ways as well. For starters there are the crowds of large macho men in leather jackets who hang out and get pissed in parks, on sidewalks, in dark alleyways, etc all throughout the night. The women here are incredibly beautiful and wear weird combinations of high-heeled boots over tight designer jeans and fur coats. Traffic is near-suicidal here in Russia and one must be vigilant when crossing the street. Russians don't make eye-contact on the streets, and stare off into space with scowls on their face as they walk, seemingly lost in deep thought about how crappy everything is. Russian beef sucks.
Strangely enough it is the partial lack of foreigness that has helped to prematurely bring on the first pangs of homesickness. Having experienced it before I know what to expect and how to deal, but it is not a comfortable process. Right now I'm going through a period of insecurity, a reaction I have to strong emotional shocks. This makes it more difficult for me to venture out on my own, bond closely with other people and also to completely relax and sleep well.
I recognize it as homesickness and not culture shock because for the past week or so I've been thinking of how relaxed and comfortable I would be were I back in Owen Sound or British Columbia, and I've been daydreaming of what my life will be like when I go home. That's a bad cycle to get into and thinking like that will only prolong homesickness.
To defeat homesickness and settle comfortably into the new circumstances one must grab the bull by the horns, so to speak. I must constantly force myself to take trips on my own and navigate the impossible communication problems I deal with on a day-to-day basis. I must force myself to relax when alone and in the company of new friends. I must devote time and energy to learning the language and, finally, I must dream of what my life will look like here in Russia in a month or two, rather than what life back home will look like in a year or two. That's the only way to break the homesick fever.
A lot of alcohol helps, too.