Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Your Guide to Going Home and Getting Sick

Welcome to the latest edition of Guide to Life Abroad. This week’s topic is coming home for the holidays.

If you’ve spent a year or so living in a foreign country and eating their food, you may choose to travel home for a week or so to experience things you may not encounter while staying abroad, namely Wendy’s, Taco Bell or Waffle House. Also, maybe you want experiences like McDonalds, Pizza Hut or Subway, which you can easily find abroad, but without having to speak very, very slowly when telling the person at the cash register which artery-clogging entrée you’d like.

Whether it’s this or some other reason, like seeing family or friends, many people living abroad choose to come home during the holiday season. Actually, many, many, many people choose this time, thus complicating your endeavor for the Quarter-pounder with Cheese/Supreme Pizza/Spicy Chicken Sandwich you’ve been missing.

However, if you follow our answers to the following frequently asked questions, having fully blockaded veins will be a goal well-within your grasp.

How far in advance should I begin making my plans to travel home during the holidays?

If by, “making my plans” you mean packing and deciding when and where to eat or stay, men long ago proved that you could do these things the night before, if not the morning of.

On the other hand, if you mean to ask when you should reserve your ticket home, you should start looking a Christmas or two beforehand. Start planning your Christmases several years in advance and begin looking for the plane tickets, otherwise you’ll either have to pay an astronomical fare, or you’ll have a very “creative” itinerary which requires you to first fly two hours west to say, Beijing, then 13 hours east to New York, then another two hours to your home state.

At what point should I exchange money into US dollars?

Usually it’s best to do this all at once in the first airport you depart in, because in theory all airports have restaurants and gift shops which accept our money, no matter how poorly it is performing when compared to the Euro.

Occasionally, however, you encounter a place like, say, the Starbucks in the Beijing airport, which refuses to take anything but Chinese Yuan. Why the Starbucks in the Beijing airport would make such stipulations is quite frankly bizarre, since their location is past security and in international departures, plus every other store around them is taking US dollars.

This means that someone who was expecting to be able to get a hot chocolate and a muffin at the Starbucks in the Beijing airport would have to back through security to get to currency exchange, which they are rather unwilling to do because they don’t want to risk getting into trouble because they’ve heard what goes on in Chinese prisons.

How hard is it to adjust to the time difference when traveling home?

When going from Asia to the US, one may depart at 5 p.m. on a Friday, travel 12-14 hours, and arrive sometime between 5:30-6 p.m. on a Friday. Therefore, all events taking place before the flight happen during a time frame known as “yestoday” which technically happened on the same date but not really the same day.

While staying at home, many people choose to fill their days with activities and resist the temptation to sleep in the afternoon. If you’re only there for a week or two, this is pointless, because no matter how tired you try to make yourself, sleeping at midnight will always feel like a nap.

Are there any health risks associated with traveling home?

Remember what it was like when you first went to live abroad in your new country? Remember the feeling that the slightest seasonal change or new experience with food would give you the illness whose symptoms required you to set new land-speed records when attempting to reach the restroom and endurance records once you were there within?

Well, now that you’ve been living abroad for a year or more, you’ve adjusted to the point where you are now at home in this foreign country, and America is now the place you are visiting. Therefore, those symptoms you left behind while living abroad may return to say “Hi” while you’re at home eating what was once a perfectly acceptable amount of grease.

What precautions should be made to guard against such risks?

Try to have a nurse handy. Nurses know a wide variety of ways to help a person whose digestive tract is in open mutiny.

In some regards, nurses are similar to doctors, except they are less likely to have their own offices or make people wait in long lines to see them. You may have a nurse among the family or friends that you will stay with at home, or you might choose to acquire your own personal nurse while living in the foreign country and bring her to America with you.

Be advised however, that “personal nurse” is usually not the title they prefer. “Girlfriend”” is usually more to their liking, with the possible promotion to “wife” available dependent on the quality of care provided.

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