A little over one month since getting back to the United States, I’m still asked the same question over and over:
“How’s the culture shock?”
Strangely enough, this is the longest time I have been away from home and yet the least culture shock I have ever experienced. I’m sure seeing friends and family from home in Europe helped ease me back into American culture. But it’s been funny noticing the small subtle ways my culture shock manifests itself:
My English sentence structures. I thought I was pretty good at catching myself making those grammar mistakes, but when my sister was editing one of my cover letters, I got many a “maybe this is a French thing, but we just don’t say that in English” comments. Even when she pointed it out, I couldn’t see what was wrong with it.
While dropping a friend off at a train station, I parked the car and got out to accompany her inside. My immediate and natural thought process was “She only speaks English, so she’ll need my help to get her train ticket and departure information.”
I’ve forgotten how to sign my name. In Reunion/Europe in general, credit cards always require pin numbers instead of signatures. So I basically have not signed my name for nine months. The first time I swiped a credit card here in the States and had a pen handed to me… I just stared at the cashier blankly, trying to figure out what she wanted from me.
When the weekend rolls around, I still get a sense of urgency to get my grocery shopping done early because I think everything will be closed on Sunday.
Texting a friend, I was dictating my message (in English, of course) in my head and typing it out with my fingers (what else?). When I looked down at the screen, I saw that I had written parts of the message in French 100% subconsciously…I honestly would not have noticed if I hadn’t looked down to check what I’d typed.
It’s actually nice having this kind of culture shock… it’s not bitter or difficult to deal with day-to-day—they’re just little bits that come as sweet reminders of my island life.
Since being back, I’ve had a Skype date with German Anne, many a facebook chats with British Becky and Irish Lucy, and long-winded email exchanges with some of the teachers from my lycée. Every one of these encounters is absolute pure joy for me—I just have this huge, silly grin on my face the entire time. The same goes for anytime I hear a Bob Marley or Beach Boys song.
Lots of people have also asked if I miss traveling—is it hard to stay in one place now? Having been in that travel mentality for so long, I think it’s just carried over… I still do feel like I’m traveling, that every day is a new experience.
Part of that may indeed be because I have not really stopped traveling since I’ve been back home. After four days back in Minnesota, I flew to Eugene, Oregon for 2 weeks to see the fam and the US Track and Field Olympic Trials. That was a great time to spend with family and also perfect for getting back into that “Proud to be American” spirit. Cheering on all these athletes and seeing their joy, their triumphs, their hopes for bigger achievements…such a thrilling, powerful, and inspiring experience.
I just got back from a weekend visiting about 15 college friends in Ann Arbor, Michigan, then seeing more friends (from Witt, Minnesota, and Senegal!) and celebrating my sister’s 27th birthday in Chicago.
The whole long weekend was SO much fun and I loved getting to go on one of my long-awaited-and-beloved road trips…. the only bummer being that the last day in Chicago I had my wallet stolen :/
Driver’s License, credit card, debit card, gift cards, AAA card, insurance cards, $60 in cash…somehow just snatched out of my purse. I was really upset for a good 20 minutes, but then I thought about it and decided not to let it ruin my day. And let’s be honest… I just spent 8 months living on a tropical island, I traveled around Europe for 6 weeks with some of my best friends, and I came home and got to go to the Olympic Trials… I can take a hit.
On top of that, I just got the exciting news last Friday that I’ve been offered a job(!) that begins the end of August. It’s an Americorps position at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon (just outside of Salem). I’ll be coordinating a mentor program between college and high school students in the area to encourage first-generation college students to finish high school and apply to college. The high schools I’ll be working with are extremely diverse (one of the schools’ homepage is offered in 6(!) different languages, and the other has 16% of its student population in ESL classes), which is very exciting coming from Reunion.
After so much travel, I came home and felt very strongly about spending time with my family, so I wanted to move out to Oregon at the end of the summer to be close to my mom, grandma and extended Oregon family. Thankfully I’ve landed this job that puts me in the perfect in-between spot: Monmouth is only a 1.5 hour drive from Eugene (where the fam lives!), but it also happens to be the same small town that American Childhood Best Friend Alex (France-Germany-Czech Republic-Norway travel buddy) just moved to with her boyfriend!! So I’ll have family close by and my best friend even closer.
I’ve also looked into going to grad school for International Studies at the University of Oregon in Eugene beginning Fall 2013. I’m interested in working in the field of International Education/Study Abroad, so living/working in Oregon for a year to establish residency for in-state tuition is also part of the plan (or potential plan). I’ll get experience working in Higher Education through this Americorps position, so hopefully that will help give me a better idea of whether International Education (advising college students on where to go abroad, but also being responsible for the international students at a university and welcoming/orienting them to campus, etc.) is really the direction I want to go.
The plan is to ship out (the mother of all road trips!!) sometime in the second week of August and get to Oregon a few weeks early to figure out housing and spend time with the fam. For now, I’m just soaking up every minute I can with my daddy and Minnesota friends.
So there’s the life update!
Always more adventures on the horizon, but I just wanted to thank you for following this past year’s adventures. I’ve really enjoyed writing this blog, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. It was so fun to share my experiences and read your comments and encouragement—you made me feel so much closer to home when I was about as far away as one can be.
On my final plane ride back to Minneapolis, I watched the first and second movies in the Lord of the Rings series (come on, what else are you going to do on a 7-hour plane ride? They didn’t have Star Wars.), and I want to leave you with a quote from the movie. Immediately after hearing it, I wrote it down in my journal because I thought it was a perfect summary of this last year… and hopefully more years to come
“It’s a dangerous business going out your door.
You step onto the road and if you don’t keep your feet,
There’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
All my love,