I knew my trip abroad wouldn’t last forever and that eventually I would have to come home. I also knew coming home would be difficult. It would be the end of a realized dream. But, I certainly did not dwell on this while I was away. I gave it very little thought and rightfully so. I was focused on living in the moment and enjoying the adventure. Living life to the fullest and taking in my surroundings with all of my senses.
Well, I came home about 7 weeks ago and I want to share with you my repatriation experience.
When I first arrived home I was overjoyed to see my family! Their love seeped into all of my being and filled me up just as I needed. But then, once the reunion was over and the stories were told, I felt like I had been smacked with a bag of bricks. To say I was sad is an understatement. Yes, I was incredibly happy to see my family and friends – happy to hug them, talk to them face-to-face, and look at them in the eye sans computer screen. It was powerful and emotional. BUT, I couldn’t kick an underlying sadness.
Naturally, I overanalyzed the situation and criticized myself for the way I was feeling which made things worse. It was as if everything I had learned abroad flew out the window. I know better than this. I know emotions need to be felt and not judged, but I was having a very hard time directing my thoughts in a positive direction. I couldn’t understand how I could feel so low after accomplishing something so exciting.
Mind you, I didn’t do a full circle return. I had been living in Chicago working a job I enjoyed with a community of friends I felt deeply connected to. When I returned the the US, I went to my parents house in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A place I haven’t actually lived since I left for college. I didn’t just feel like a fish out of water, but a fish in the middle of a desert.
So, here I am, 30 years old living with my parents with all my belongings in random unmarked boxes. It was a massive life change and I was sad.
I started to unpack my bags and sift through the many boxes that were piled high in the closet. It was then I broke into a sob and asked myself the questions, “What have I done? What did I do to myself?” I felt disoriented, confused and overwhelmed with conflicting emotions. I was so proud of myself for taking the leap of faith and pursuing my dreams, but I was terrified about what was next. I felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. I felt like a foreigner in my own country. A stranger in my parents home.
I think you get the point…it has been difficult. It’s clear to me (and probably to you too now) that I was not prepared to embrace the consequences of traveling solo. Here are a few things I’ve now realized:
Reverse culture shock is a real thing.
It isn’t until you are removed from your own culture that you actually see it for what it is. Coming back to America was tough because it is drastically different from SE Asia. First off, there is so much space here! I also realized we have too many options at the store. I needed to buy face wash and I stood in the aisle for what felt like 20 minutes. I walked away with nothing. Why do we have so many choices!? It is debilitating trying to decide what to buy. Then of course there is the sticker shock. Compared to Thailand, everything here is so expensive. I could get an entire meal and drink for under $2. That hardly buys me an iced tea here. And finally, there is the social pressures to conform (something I am trying to find a happy medium with). We live in a faced paced society with busyness often held as a badge of honor. I wasn’t prepared to jump into this undertow, and not sure I ever will be.
When you travel solo, your memories are yours and only yours (for the most part).
When I made the decision to travel alone, I knew it would be a personal experience. I guess what I didn’t realize is although I rarely felt lonely on my trip (I found friends everywhere I went) I felt lonely with my memories. The stories and the funny things that happened will never be understood by anybody but myself. As much as my friends and family love me, I can only assume they do not want to hear me go on and on about things they weren’t present for. Sure, some stories are absolutely worth telling, but some of them are “you just had to be there” moments. I need to come to terms with the fact that my memories are personal and embrace this. I need to accept that these memories have helped shape who I am today, and that the knowledge I have because of them is awesome and enough.
Everything at home will be the same, but you will be different:
The pictures on the wall are the same, the furniture is the same, and the daily routine of the people I care about are pretty much the same. But, I feel different. I am different. Now I need to try to fit back into this life with my new self.
Now, after some time to assimilate back into American culture, I am feeling much better! I am starting to gain some balance and am able to remember the amazing things about traveling solo. I’ll take some time and write that piece separately as there are TONS of great reasons why I would urge you to travel. Although coming home has been difficult, the trip was absolutely worth it and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.