I’ve been back in the United States for a week and a half now and it’s been a weird transition. Though this is my second time coming back home from overseas, it is no less strange. When I first came home after 18 months away, I found America to be a very strange place. It was a foreign land all over again. I had forgotten so much about America but, more than that, I found the concept of “being back home” far stranger.
To quote Benjamin Button, “It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.”
I had come to realize that I didn’t fit in here anymore. I had this fire in me. It yearned to try new things, see new places, and meet new people.
It was hard to adjust to the U.S.’ constant driving culture, fast pace of life, small sodas the size of my hand, appetizers big enough to feed a family of four, cars the size of tanks, and “big box” Wal-Mart stores that housed ten of thousands of things to buy.
“Holy shit! Supermarkets here are huge,” I exclaimed wide-eyed as I walked down the aisle of our supermarket.
“They are YOUR supermarkets. This is your home. Don’t say here like this is a foreign place,” my mother replied curtly.
At first, home was fun. There was an excitement about being back. I went to my old haunts, favorite restaurants, and caught up with my friends.
But as that excitement wore off and I had revisited all my haunts, I realized Mike was right. Home had remained frozen during my time away. My friends had the same jobs, were going to the same bars, and mostly doing the same things. In Boston, the same stores were there, the construction still going, and the bars filled with the same types of people
After a year of mind-blowing adventures, I was back to where I started. My friends don’t understand the new me, didn’t want to hear about your time sailing the Pacific while they sat in rush hour, or don’t get why my feel so uncomfortable being back.
But, the second time around, the biggest shock of coming home wasn’t cultural — it was simply the shock of being home. After my first trip, I found it hard to adjust to driving everywhere, the cost of things, the quick pace of life, and not having people to interact with 24/7. This time around those things, as well as ordering a small soda the size of my hand, meals big enough to feed a family of four, huge cars, lack of intelligent news networks, and “big box” Wal-Mart stores, are still an adjustment.
Yet all that “adjusting” has paled in comparison to the simple shock of just “being home.” That is the hardest thing to deal with. And when travelers talk about adjusting to coming home, we almost always are talking about this — the transition from traveler and life on the road to being back into your old life.
It’s a lot harder than transitioning into travel. When I came home last year, I didn’t really want to see anyone. I was finding it difficult to adjust from such an “on the move” lifestyle to such a sedentary one. Yes, I wanted to see my friends and family but I had just gotten used to the travel lifestyle, and even though it wasn’t always perfect, it was amazing and then all of sudden with one plane ride, it suddenly stopped. The brakes slammed and it wasn’t easy to deal with. How do you go from new people and places every day to the complete opposite and not have a hard time?
While in D.C., I went and visited the James family from The Wide Wide World and we got on the subject of this. In the movie “A Map for Saturday,” they discuss this in detail. And when other long-term travelers talk to each other, they talk about this. And everyone’s conclusion is eerily the same: Home is wonderful but it feels very different and, in some ways, it’s longer home. You’ve changed. You are different but life back home isn’t. Often times it feels like it was frozen while you were away only to defrost right when you return. When you try to express that to your friends, they simply can’t relate and don’t understand.
When you tell your friends about your trip, they’re interested at first but the more details you give, the more their eyes glaze over. They just want an easy answer. Because the more you go on, the more you just make them (a) a bit jealous, (b) think they haven’t done as much and (c) bored. Any long-term traveler who has come home and talked about his/her trip can testify to eyes glazing over after five minutes. And so when you have this angst about being home, it’s hard for anyone but other travelers to understand. Because it’s a feeling without any words. “Weird” or “surreal” or “unstimulating” are usually the best words that we can use to describe it, but they never fully convey our thoughts. When you talk to another traveler though, you don’t need words. They just understand. They’ve been through it too.
To your friends, it can come off as you don’t like being home and you think it’s boring. But it’s not that. You’ve just changed in a way that’s hard to describe. It would be like a woman describing being pregnant. You know what they are talking about but unless you’ve ever been pregnant, you’re never going to fully understand or relate.
The real shock of coming home is just simply being able to cope with being home. Adjusting back to your culture doesn’t take long. Within a short time, you’ll get back into your groove and remember the little things you loved. But dealing with leaving the constant movement of the travel lifestyle can take much, much longer and be much, much harder of a shock to deal with.
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