Perhaps you can clearly recall your first time going overseas, navigating a huge international airport abroad, trying to speak the local language, getting lost, finding your way again, making new friends, and the many other wonderful things that happen abroad. Those memories are so vivid, in part, because of how unique and exciting they were. When you get home after a long time abroad doing something in your home culture that you haven’t done in a long time might take you by surprise too. For me, the first time driving again in the States, especially in heavy rain, snow, etc. had me thinking out loud, “Why am I driving like I’m 16 again?!” Even though I didn’t drive in the five years abroad, I didn’t expect driving to be anything of note. My first domestic flight in the USA (which I previous wrote about), the first time getting my hair cut, going to the doctor’s office, and purchasing something major, were certainly not as amazing as when I did those for the first time abroad but still had some significant impact.
So far I’ve identified a few major thought patterns when something of this nature happens:
1.) Wow, I haven’t done *insert activity or way of doing something* in a long time and it’s weird/fun/amazing/etc. to do it again.
2.) Wow, that’s so much easier to do in my own language/country.
3.) Yeah, maybe that was easier but I miss the challenge of doing it/figuring it out abroad.
4.) Yikes, *insert country* does this a lot better. Why don’t we change this?
5.) You know, in this case I like the way *insert your home country* does this.
Embrace the new, the new-to-you, the familiar, and the odd. And embrace being a returnee!
Just like any other returnee “first” can be a moment for reflection, my recent trip to Oklahoma City, flying from Columbia (Missouri) with a connection in Dallas was enough to trigger many diverse thoughts and emotions. I was amazed that I didn’t need my passport, thrilled to not have to go through customs, and I didn’t need to change my watch after landing! Same time zone after all. I was appalled at the thought that I may need to pay for checked luggage (but didn’t because of my status with the airline or something cool like that), tickled pink that I was upgraded to first class on the flight between Texas and Oklahoma (now if only that would happen to/from Asia!), annoyed by some entitled kid who missed his final boarding call getting Starbucks and had the audacity to complain to the manager, and bummed out when I realized everything in the airport at my destination was still in English, the food was basically the same, and there was no foreign currency to use or great need to speak a foreign language. That sounds silly, of course. I was only going a State away. But when you’re used to taking trips where each stop provides an array of sensory input and wonder, I at least, for a moment, forgot that not all flights afford that. Oklahoma City was still amazing mind you; I spent the week hanging out with Taiwanese students on the American cultural experience of a lifetime and like-minded Americans who were studying TESOL for their upcoming yearlong teaching experience in Taiwan. Domestic flights and their destinations can certainly provide chances to reconnect with the cultures you left behind when coming back home as a returnee – just don’t be surprised if you are surprised by the trip itself.
After living abroad for the past five of seven years, three years in Japan and two years in South Korea, which were broken up by 1 ½ years in the States, I am back in my home culture again and embracing my “fish out of water” experiences readjusting to life in America and staying connected to my second and third homes. Each time abroad, whether for long-term study or work, changes your perspective and the longer you go the greater these changes take place within your very being. You’re never the same again as the ideals, mannerisms, and nuances of wherever you’ve resided intertwine around your original ones, making you a new person. I love of how the countries I’ve lived in and the people have met have changed me, and hope my blog will help give you some insight into being a returnee. I am neither the most well-qualified nor most well-traveled, and everything I say has naturally been filtered through the lens of my own personal experiences, as an American woman whose limited travel experience has mostly taken place in Asia. That being said, I hope these posts, which I hope to keep between 200-300 words and update weekly, are helpful to those hoping to study abroad, work abroad, and in the field of education abroad.