When a woman gives birth, she experiences intense pain (though this varies between individuals) but the reward of a healthy little human at the end of it overshadows the birthing experience. A woman will experience euphoria in many cases and that will cause the memory of childbirth to be remembered as a lot less painful than it actually was. It’s apparently called the halo effect. It’s the thing that keeps children being born.
The same* thing happens to me when I visit a place that makes me miserable.
I’m a pretty judgmental person and travelling has opened my eyes to this awful side of me and made me more aware. When I go to a new place, I first have to deal with a few stages.
1. My Preconceived Notions
When I plan to go to a new place, I do some research on whatever place it is. Usually, the information I find is on the very basic, simple things, and that means I get a lot of other people’s opinions influencing my thoughts. Sometimes the only knowledge I have is from movies, which is, again, someone else’s opinion influencing mine.
So when I get to a new place that I’ve heard a lot of negative things about, I immediately see the negative things causing the positive things to be clouded by this. I’m trying to work on that.
2. It’s Much Worse
So now that I’ve seen all the negative things, I dwell on them: oh, it’s so polluted, the people are pushy, the air smells. This ends up bringing my mood down exponentially.
So instead of seeing the history and architecture and liveliness of the people, I dwell on what I dislike.
3. Never Go There!
Then, I get home and people ask me about the trip. I tell them some good things I experienced: the weather was nice, the Great Wall was a dream come true, I walked everywhere!
But then I talk about how I’ll never return there: the pollution meant it was cloudy all the time, it was hard to breathe, my clothes were filthy from the air, people were pushy, people were disgusting, people in the hostel were too loud.
I am a salesperson vehemently trying to convince you to stay in your own corner of the world and never discover new places.
4. The Reflection
When I’m home for a while, I start to look back on my trip and that’s when the halo effect starts to save me. I begin to think of all of those things I saw — the history, the architecture, the culture. And then, I begin to miss it and want to return.
I have to laugh at my stupidity because I can so remember feeling miserable at the thought of staying in the place another day; the way I’m feeling is a bit of an oxymoron.
When you’re gone from a place for a while, you start to only remember the good things about it and that’s what starts to fuel your wanderlust once more.
This feeling — and the knowledge that I will experience this feeling without fail — keeps me going when times are getting hard or if I’m particularly negative about a certain aspect of my location.
I’m not sure if I’m the only one who feels this way — I doubt it — but it’s good to know that just because I’m stressed or annoyed at this particular point in time, it doesn’t mean this is how I will feel. In fact, I know I’ll end up missing it.
I lived in Thailand for 10 months. It was always hot and humid and relaxing, but I was adamant that I would not stay. I was eager to get home.
This example isn’t as relevant because a big point for me wanting to go home was my cat who was quite old at the time.
But there were other things that I simply hated: the loud students, the chaos, the requirements to work the occasional Saturday, the marking, the stress, the crowded city, the traffic, the sad stray dogs, the lack of support in education, the low pay, the open houses, and, above all, the geckos and spiders**.
The halo effect started before I left.
I was eager to get home and no longer teach these rowdy kids. Everyone else was very emotional except for me as I try to avoid crying in public at all costs. But then when the last days were winding down, I was standing in the field waiting for my friend who was talking to one of her students and my eyes started to fill with tears and betray me. Luckily, I had sunglasses on. But my friend was well-aware of what was happening when I didn’t respond to her.
I was excited to get on that plane back home and couldn’t wait for the plane to (eventually) land so that I could be comfortable at home again. And I was ecstatic when it happened.
But now, I miss Thailand so much. It was my home for a year, but it was much more. I never realized how much I loved summer weather until I didn’t have to deal with winter. I had an amazing group of students, despite their silliness, and I was experiencing a world so different from my own.
One day, I hope to return and experience the country as a tourist rather than a resident (re: free of responsibilities).
The biggest example is Beijing, China.
I had heard both good and bad things about the country from a variety of people (Negative Nellies were online while the Positive Paulies were in person). Since people tend to naturally focus on the negative, I expected rude people and a disgusting city.
When I landed, I thought it was snowing but it was just the streetlights catching the pollution in the air. I stayed overnight in the airport until I could catch the underground to my hostel. Immediately, I was put off. How was I going to breathe?
Over the 10 days I was there, I was disgusted by: people holding their children over street drains to pee, disgusting toilets, pushy people, near-constant pollution, smelling disgusting every day, and feeling grimy from the air as well as congested.
I remember though: the streets were very clean. The architecture was beautiful and the city had so much to offer. The hike to the Great Wall blew my mind and is the main reason I want to go back.
If you had asked me after I left whether I’d ever go back to China, I would have said no. But that was over 2 years ago. Now, I’d love to go back. Whenever I see a picture of the Wall or something else about Beijing, I feel this draw to return.
It’s a strange feeling.
If I had to give any advice to people travelling to new places with vastly different cultures, it would be this: feel however you want to feel, but make sure you consider both the good and the bad. That way, when you look back, you see only the positive; you can remember the bad in the present with the good awaiting you in the future.