I drove up to one of my favorite coffee shop windows the other day and before I could say a word, the barista asked, "You want your large coconut latte and a chocolate milk in a cup with straw for your little girl?" I was surprised and impressed that she remembered! I confirmed my order, got another stamp on my card, and drove out to volunteer at the field down the road.
"Hello again! It's good to see you two back. Thank you so much for that article you wrote the other day to raise awareness for our cause, it was perfect!"
"We are sharing buckets right now because we have more people helping than we have supplies so if you'd like to wait for some more to be returned or add to other Gleaner's buckets..."
"That sounds like a good problem!" I laughed. "Yeah, we will walk around and add produce to the buckets that are already out."
As we walked the field we met people from other ministries, a middle school coach with some of his students, moms, and kids lending a helping hand. Seeing all these good people around me, made me feel pride to call this place home even though it is temporary. Due to my husband's career, we will move every few years and try to make each place feel like home.
This was a morning that made me feel more like a local than an outsider. I certainly understand being in a new place and out of my element. Whether you go away to college, follow military orders, get a new job, or leave your home for any other purpose, it can take a while to find your niche in a new place. When you compare the place to your own familiar home, it will always feel different. It can take a while to learn what is truly special about the place where you live and sometimes people live in a place so long they take it for granted.
My advice is to get out in the community and explore all that it has to offer and meet people. Become a regular at restaurant or coffee shop. If you have a hobby, find your favorite place to foster it and talk to the people who are there. I like gardening and I have two favorite garden shops (hint: they are not Home Depot or Lowes) and every time I visit the people there know me. We talk about my garden, challenges, I get recommendations, sometimes they give me discounts before moving older items to the discount table. They teach me so much such as the plants and techniques that work here that don't work in my home state. Best of all, going to these shops then becomes an experience rather than another mundane errand.
So many people come through here and call Valdosta, "Val-dumpster," which is unfortunate. Locals love their title town, high school football, fresh summer produce, year-round gardening, homemade peach and blueberry ice cream, Gator sightings, sweet tea, BBQ, and more. I get to love my life here because of my church, my friends, the places I "regular", and knowing what the locals love through experiences and relationships. I know I'm not missing out on a thing and I'm living this experience to the fullest for as long as I'm allowed to experience it. This is the best defense against loneliness and homesickness.
When we lived here before, it took me a while to learn what the locals loved and why they loved it. While living in Japan, of course, it was easy to get excited about experiencing another country but the concept is the same. Someone once told me before we were stationed in Okinawa that in her time there most of the people who didn't like living there were the people who seldom left the base. She helped me remember that it was important for me to get out and experience the place where I lived. I've done the same since coming back to the States and the old adage is true--a place is what you make of it. So, I live like a local and make it home.