They said to go out and explore the world, they said it will be great. What they didn’t tell you is how hard you will be slapped in the face by reality upon return. Thanks for the disclosure, “they”.
As great and beautiful and life changing as blindly packing up and moving to another country was, the reintegration back to “normalcy” is almost as difficult as leaving. I’ve been out of the country before on a “study” abroad trip before, but it was different then. When I returned from the Czech Republic, I had a job and the return to school to keep me on track and prevent any major spiral. While I did still manage to spiral pretty hard, it was different. (One of my great abilities is to spiral when it’s considered impossible to spiral. Im so proud.) I had a plan. I had direction and a general idea of where my life would be in the near future. This time, all plans and inhibitions flung themselves to the wind and I am now returning from a 2 month out-of-control-no-end-in-sight bout of spiraling reintegration.
While my days have been filled with yoga, family, good food, Noonie, great friends, highly questionable decisions, and entirely too much wine, the rebirth back into this American life is no easy feat. Life here hasn’t changed. Life still moves at a rapid pace. People are still obsessed with superficiality. No one cares that you are having the hardest internal battle each and everyday of this proposed normality.
While I accept hardship as a chellenge, I can’t help but feel like I’ve had more quarter-life crises than the average twenty-something. It feels like I have one every single year, in fact. Which is weird. I can’t help but wonder if I am being thrown curveballs and difficult situations that uproot my life because I am doing it wrong? But then I remember that you can’t do it wrong. Ever. All things happen as they should and we treat situations in such a manner that either teaches us a good leasson and we get it and move on, OR life is like ” LOL. Try again”. And we do. Because there is no other option besides moving forward.
Things no one tells you about reintegrating:
—> IT IS FCKING HARD. It’s not easy and it’s not not hard. It’s pretty damn challenging to come back to the life you left many months or years ago. It’s depressing. To see that actually nothing has changed and that everyone is still maintaining the same routine is harder than you’d think. Coming back to a culture based on appearance and social standing after being in a free-flowing environment is a challenge in itself. You suddenly become hyper-aware of how you look and and how poor you actually are, even if these things have not been in your mind for months. It’s hard to accept that you are in fact back in “reality” and your days of endless travel have ended. It’s hard to embrace the herds of white people and vanilla culture. It’s hard not to hate it. But you can’t hate it, because it’s your home and it’s part of you. And as much as you travel and explore, you will eventually return.
—> You can’t do whatever you want when you want. Wait, what? What do you mean I can’t go on day long adventures to a far away beach and drink wine at noon? What do you mean it’s not acceptable to work for 3 hours and then spend the rest of the week dancing in the streets to homeless musicians? I don’t get it. No, I do get it. But only now, 2 months back into “reality” and out of the “dream” I just experienced. The most magical thing about an adventure is that you are on your own time and you have little to no responsibility. You don’t have to be anywhere at a certain time. You don’t have to search for true employment. You don’t have to be anyone. You can simply exist and float in and out of events and situations with ease. That ends instantly when you re-enter your “home”. You have to be gainfully employed or else you are cast away and burned at the stake for being a gypsy. You have to uphold plans with friends and relatives. You have to exercise and eat right and not drink wine at 11 am. You allegedly can’t lollygag your life away. For the past 2 months, I’ve been riding on the notion that I can still live my adventure life in Colorado without consequence. Yeeeeah that cute little dream has come to and end. Sometimes you have to buckle down and be a server/slave and be places on time and not piss off entire weeks of your life. It’s rough.
–> Heartbreak from afar with TEAR YOU APART. Well, I guess my first piece of advice is to NEVER fall in love with a latin man. Too much? Ok fine. But if you’re going to do it, do it with caution. They will destroy every last fiber of hope in mankind. They will rip your little heart to smithereens and then shake their rhythmic hips over the pieces with their cool hair and sexual accents. They will carry on their normal life like nothing happned, while you cry and cry and cry and binge drink wine and consider online dating and set out to DESTROY all male souls you can get your hands on. You will seek revenge by luring in others and then crushing them to emotional death because you’re convinced an eye for an eye will take away the pain. It doesn’t. It won’t. So don’t.
Heartbreak and reintegration is a deadly combination. You literally feel like you have nothing left to hold onto. There is only a faint whisper of the adventure and love that once was. The rest has turned into a harsh slap in the face by reality. You feel like you don’t belong anywhere and that you are a citizen of the prison that is your mind. It hurts. More than anything I’ve experienced in my life thus far. Which I guess makes me pretty lucky, but still. It sucks. You feel like you don’t know up from down and that the whole world is spinning so fast and you are standing still in the middle of the madness. Without direction and without love. I am still not over this latin heartbreak, and I won’t be for awhile. But I am starting to realize that life will go on and love will show it’s complicated face again. One day. When you’re not a boiling hot mess of mental instability and day-long spurts of sobbing. Things will get better.
—> Everything feels different and the same. At the same time. The whole world has not changed just because you have. It feels like you just woke up from the craziest, wonderful yet horrifying dream. You walk around wondering if people notice that you are different. You walk around differently. A different mindset. A different gauge on normalcy. A different perspective on how you want your life to look. This shift is beautiful and prized, but when paired with the return to the routine you held before you left, shit gets real. You become uncertain if you should retreat back to what you did before you left, or take steps to pursue the change. It’s like being a caged animal for years and then escaping. And then getting caught and returned back to the cage. I guess the key in this situation is to find the balance between what once was and what will be. It’s not an easy feat, kids.
—> You will have to summarize months and months of adventure stories into “It was great”. People will ask. They will seem generally curious on how your adventure went. But beware, if you expand your answer to more than a few short sentences, you will be met with ceiling glances and phone checks. While some good friends will be genuinely interested, most people don’t give a fck. Which is fine. You didn’t explore the world to sound more cultured in conversation. You did it for your own personal growth. But just know, the first time you summarize a magical and life-changing experience into “Yeah, it was wonderful”, it will hurt. It will hurt because you went through so much and did so many things that seem like they can’t physically boil down to one sentence. But they can. And they will.
—> Binging on booze and other substances does not help. Surprising, I know. I thought it was a proven coping method, but allegedly it makes everything worse. Waking up with a hangover practically every day for numerous weeks is not as fun as it sounds. While it drowns out the whispers of “what the fuck are you doing with your life?!” and the yells of a heartbreak, the sweet numbness can only last so long. you can only forget so much, until it all rushes back with vengeance. Doing yoga, meditating, journaling, applying yourself to something with meaning, and things of the like have proven to be better in coping. I’ve just now started to realize the great things that come with introspection after such an event. While it’s idealist to say that I won’t continue to hit the south broadway bars with 1-7 vodka drinks and hops of destroying male souls, I’ve promised myself to cut down significantly. I’m really growing up in the world, eh?
—> You will want to speak ________ (insert foreign language of choice) with anyone and everyone. It’s like tourettes and you won’t be able to stop. You will seem mildly racist while asking non-white (an also white) humans if they want to engage you in conversation in broken and drunken spanish. You won’t rest until you mumble a few foreign words to an unsuspecting victim. And while my spanish skills are SEVERELY declining due to lack of practice, I feel a small victory each time I speak it. My, my, my how cultured I am now. Look at me go! I can communicate with all of the kitchen staff at my work! I can read the smaller instructions so generously displayed for the minority! I am really breaking boundaries here. In all honesty, I’ve found my hidden love for learning and using language and have promised myself to never stop. So, yea, I might seem racist by asking any and all hispanic-looking people to humor my spanish skills. But I can’t stop, won’t stop.
—> You will try to make irrational plans to escape your home/life. Was I one click away from buying a ticket back to Peru? Yes. Was I searching for legitimate jobs in Chile? Absolutely. Was I wondering how long I could survive in Antarctica with $50? For a minute, yes. Planning another escape into the unknown is somehow more comfortable than remaining in the comfort zone. It’s sick, but it’s true. I’ve boiled this down to my strong desire to runaway and never remain stagnant. My happy place is when I am stuck in a foreign place without any idea of direction. When I know exactly what my day will look like, where to go, and what to do, I freak out a little. I can’t handle the mundane for a long period of time. It hurt my little gypsy soul. Thus, this is something that I will continue to deal with and struggle against. Because apparently no one can run away from grown-up decisions forever. Except for like Forest Gump and real-life gypsies. hashtag-jealous.
—> You are not heady than thou because you have seen a little bit of the world. There is not a direct correlation with traveling and intelligence/spiritual growth/good human-ness. While it’s a bit easier to grow and learn and experience new things while in another land, you are not in fact better than those that have not left their homeland. You’re not. So stop. You can’t simply float on the notion that you automatically gained street credit and karma points because you lived out of a backpack for months. Like, cool story bro, but get over it. I’ve learned that being pretentious about your travels gets you nothing more than an asshole title and a boost to your detrimental ego.
MORAL OF THIS STORY: I have no idea. The pleasures and thrill of traveling are unmatched, even by the immense pain and mental instability of return. No amount of tears and feelings of being lost can surpass the experiences you have while seeing the world. Just because life is a little more challenging when you reintegrate back to your homeland doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t travel. It’s like never falling in love because you don’t want the pain of a heartbreak. We grow and flourish with each experience, whether it’s really shitty or really wonderful. It’s the unavoidable ebb and flow of life.
My advice: Travel. Travel often. Travel your little face off until you can’t travel anymore. See it all. Experience it all. Surround yourself with good people and things. But be aware that coming home is not a frolic in a field of sound-of-music-esque wildflowers. It will test your very being and will to survive mentally, but it can never compare to the beauty of the outside world. Fall in love, meet some weirdos, get into sketchy situations and then come home and find yourself again. You will survive and be a more complete human.