I returned to America on the morning of December 24th, 2018.
My return has felt, in a word, anticlimactic. My final trip around the subcontinent of Southeast Asia – comprising of a week in Kuala Lumpur with my younger brother, an unbelievable scuba dive trip in the Komodo Islands with my father, a week in Bali with one of my best friends and another week adventuring around Northern Thailand solo and with friends – was incredible and unforgettable, but not the focus of this blog. I hope to detail these trips in one or two more final blog posts.
This post is about my reintegration to American society, and the difficulties I have been having. Since arriving in America, I’ve seen countless friends and eaten countless bacon egg and cheeses. I’ve been overjoyed to be reunited with family and friends, enjoyed several trips into New York City, and begun searching for employment in the United States. But It all feels weird. Everything feels remarkably grayer than before I left. It’s not to say that my friends have changed or I haven’t enjoyed the company of familiar faces. It’s that I’ve changed, my world view has changed, my priorities have changed, and I’m having trouble reconciling all of that with the abrupt return to “home”. In a way, it feels like a big part of me has not returned home.
It sounds crazy, because while in Vietnam, especially towards the end I was ready to come back to America, to be surrounded by all my loved ones. I was hungry for something more, I loved teaching my students (well, playing musical chairs with my students) but I didn’t feel particularly challenged or stimulated by the day to day work. I looked forward to launching a fulfilling career back home.
Part of the melancholic feeling must be the inevitable result of returning to cruising altitude from such a chaotic year. Over my year abroad I experienced both the highest highs and lowest lows I’ve ever known. I endeavored through the lows and delighted in the highs, but each day I woke up on the other side of the world I woke up with a sense of adventure and excitement – whether good or bad, I was not short of emotions.
It also is an adjustment to returning to a life where there aren’t major things to look forward to. The entirety of my year abroad, I was counting down the days til my next once in a lifetime adventure which rarely was more than a month or two away. Whether it was counting down til my parents visited or friends to traverse the countryside or experience things like the Grand Prix with, what got me through all of the lows was the promise of inevitable highs. A weekend trip to New York, while nice, is a more muted goalpost to venture towards than these grand adventures upon which I was embarking.
Back in the States, I also begin to wonder – what is the point? Of all of this? Work hard, get a good job, make money all so I can pay rent? So I can eat? Go out once a week? Save for retirement? So I can get my several weeks off a year? I was bit hard by the travel bug, the sense of how truly big and beautiful the world is and I want to see it. How am I gonna do that with just two weeks vacation per year?
I knew coming back to the United States would be an adjustment, just as I knew moving to Vietnam would be an adjustment. I underestimated both. I was able to find my voice and my footing in Vietnam and make my year abroad remarkable, learn a lot about myself and a little bit about the world, and see some things. I was able to make 2018, while the most difficult year of my life, the best year of my life. The United States and 2019 have shown that they will offer a totally different type of challenge. Whether I can rise to meet it remains to be seen. Whether I even should remains to be seen. Only time will tell if the part of me that has not returned from Southeast Asia will eventually get back here, or if I’ll have to go back over there to fetch it.