I should mention that I don’t live in New York or on a Central Park bench the way this picture would have you believe. A month ago, I moved back to Seattle where I write in my pjs and dream of more travel.
The repat experience goes like this: You have a favorite pair concert tee-shirt that you haven’t worn since high school (for me – the band Rancid is a perfect example). You pull it over your head only to find out that your body has changed. And you’re now questioning the band’s logo: are they still cool? Am I still way into them?
The answer is both Yes and No. Because you have changed. You no longer live for punk, identify yourself as a punk, you just like it. You’ve found new bands and even though you can still recite all the words to Timebomb, your mohawk has turned into a faux-hawk and you’ve traded in those combat boots for chuck taylors.
Quebec might be cold, but the people are warm. There’s no pressure to buy, less pressure to work, and everyone is really polite and soft-spoken. It contrasts sharply with the U.S. even though it’s on the same continent.
I love America, I love being an American, but when I went back, I felt a wave of reverse culture shock. Everyone seemed so loud and in a hurry. No more quaint epicuries. No more watching street circus acts in the middle of the afternoon. No more charming outdoor terraces.
1. Don’t talk about your experience abroad unless people ask. It’s boring. No one really wants to know what kind of cookies they have in your host country and how you can’t find them here. They really don’t understand and you come across as that pretentious-live-abroad asshole. Trust me. I’ve been on the other side of this many times.
2. Don’t bring a lot of stuff back. I moved back to Seattle and I am still sorting through the boxes, plus all that junk I put in storage. Purchase one or two cool souvenirs – a rug, a painting, something you can look at everyday, and bring it back. Don’t go crazy trying to make your contemporary apartment look like a London flat.
3. Don’t give up the second language. Join a conversation group in your city and attend regularly. It’s a great way to network and speaking a second language makes you seem extremely intelligent. My French sounds terrible there but impresses people back here.
Friend: What are you doing?
Me: Oh me? On Saturday, I am speaking French in my bi-lingual meetup.
Friend: I will be watching House Hunters International in my underwear. I hate you.
4. Keep the good habits you developed. I stopped watching so much TV because it was all en francais. I walked up hill in the snow, every day. I read more. I am trying all these good habits where I am at now.
5. Think positive. It was very difficult for me to accept America’s many flaws, especially after I spent a year taking French classes with immigrants from developing nations. Why do we need such big houses? So many cars? It depresses me because I now have friends who grew up without the most basic necessities, like food, clothes, non-dirt floors. I am determined to remember the things I do like about the US (the spirit, the big ideas, the conveniences) and do more things to help. I now think of myself, as cliche and pretentious as this sounds, as a citizen of the world.