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“Culture Shock”

Last Tuesday, I stepped off the plane, made it through US customs surprisingly fast, collected all 120+ pounds of luggage, and immediately walked into a cluster fuck of people at JFK airport. Everyone was speaking very quickly and I could understand what everyone was saying, which was quite overwhelming even though it’s my first language. I didn’t know which conversation to listen to or why almost everyone was carrying carts of at least 5 suitcases (how do you even get away with that?). I stepped off to the side to avoid the extremely loud and obnoxious children that were running in every direction to wait for my mom, who arrived a few minutes later. I had been gone for just over 5 months but no matter how much time goes by, it always feels as though I saw her yesterday. But that’s how it’s supposed to feel, right?

We drove through the horrible but unsurprising traffic through Jamaica and Queens to get to the oh-so familiar I-95 to get back home to Southport, Connecticut. My mom asked me all the right questions that anyone who just got back from months abroad would be ecstatic to answer, but wasn’t overbearing, either. Everyone was driving like absolute idiots, which was also unsurprising but I forgot how absolutely terrible people can be at driving and how much danger they’re putting themselves and others around them in. We finally made it home, and I was greeted by my favorite hello that I’ve known for the past 10 years; Cooper, my 10-year old golden retriever.

And as many people have said before, the hardest yet best part about going home is that it doesn’t change. My mom said that her and my dad are thinking of seriously moving back to Toronto by the end of 2015, but that’s still a ways away. Cooper’s eyesight is failing more than ever, but he’s still the same fluffy, banana-obsessed, loving dog that I’ve always known. He humps his bed less, so at least he’s made progress.

This article perfectly summarizes exactly what I just said and what I’m feeling. It’s a good read for anyone who has just returned from a long trip or an extended stay somewhere else. It doesn’t even have to be a foreign country or maybe not even a different state, but a different place that aids self-growth, helps you meet your goals, or realize your dreams. From the article:

You feel angry. You feel lost. You have moments where you feel like it wasn’t worth it because nothing has changed but then you feel like it’s the only thing you’ve done that is important because it changed everything. What is the solution to this side of traveling? It’s like learning a foreign language that no one around you speaks so there is no way to communicate to them how you really feel.

This is why once you’ve traveled for the first time all you want to do is leave again. They call it the travel bug, but really it’s the effort to return to a place where you are surrounded by people who speak the same language as you. Not English or Spanish or Mandarin or Portuguese, but that language where others know what it’s like to leave, change, grow, experience, learn, then go home again and feel more lost in your hometown then you did in the most foreign place you visited.”

The travel bug is most certainly a real thing that can’t be killed or suppressed, but I did help mine by purchasing a flight to San Francisco for October reading week to visit Chris. He speaks the same language as me, both literally and in the sense that he knows the exact same feelings as I do right now – maybe even more so, after being abroad for 365 days.

We had a wonderful few days together back on this side of the pond. Having him here for those first few days definitely helped the process of easing back into life here. I even got to play tourist in New York City again, which is always fun to do. When I lived in NYC, there were definitely times when I forgot about all that the city has to offer and why it’s so special.

Since I dropped off Chris at the airport yesterday to return to California, it’s felt like the experience is actually over. Everything has finally sunk in, but at least reality sort of eased its way in and didn’t hit me full-force. I’m going to work for the same photographer I’ve helped for over 4 years tomorrow. It’s work, but I love it, and I’m not dreading it all. He is my role model and I actually can’t wait to see him tomorrow.

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” – Azar Nafisi (and from Alison Clarke’s blog who studied in Stuttgart 2 years ago)

And here’s a photo essay of the best 5 months of my life:

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Day 1: Schloßplatz, Stuttgart

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First “German” meal including a schnitzel and a hefeweißen at Sophie’s Brauhaus

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Our second night all together

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Our first barbecue

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Our first night at Max Kade

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My first trip to Dublin, Glendalough, Kilkenny, and London

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My first trip to Dublin, Glendalough, Kilkenny, and London

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Before the pots and pans kitchen party

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Paige’s birthday

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Our first trip all together to Prague

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“We’ll always have Paris”

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Frühlingsfest Round 1

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Frühlingsfest Round 2

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Frühlingsfest Round 3

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Party in an abandoned Nazi amphitheater in Heidelberg for Germany’s May Day

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Rome, Italy

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Sperlonga, Italy

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Barcelona, Spain

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Heidelberg Round 2

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Strasbourg, France

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Hohenzollern Castle, Germany

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Munich, Germany

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Copenhagen, Denmark

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Norrköping, Sweden

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Stockholm, Sweden

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Freiburg, Germany

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The World Cup

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Sky Beach, Stuttgart

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Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

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Budapest, Hungary

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Split, Croatia

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Family dinners

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Das Schwimmbad

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Berthenay, France

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Tübingen, Germany

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Day 156

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