Tag Archives: ex pat writing

Reverse Culture Shock

The Things No One Tells You

In the weeks before you prepare to depart your recently adopted homeland, your Facebook newsfeed and your group Whatsapp and your inbox will be flooded with articles and blog posts and op ed pieces about coming home. You’ll become a pseudo-expert and fervent disciple in Reverse Culture Shock.

But, for all of articles I read and the friend-of-a-friend experiences I heard recounted, there are a few things that I’ve realized in the last few months that no one amount of studying up on Reverse Culture Shock prepared me for.

1. It’s surprisingly easy. One minute you’re meeting friends for tapas in an alley behind your piso and the next you’re driving the streets of your hometown having flashbacks to high school and it’s almost as if you’ve never left. I was just there, you think as you pass the restaurant where you had your farewell dinner, conveniently forgetting the last year of your life. Sure, you miss Spain, but do you know what else you miss? First crushes and your mom’s tuna noodle casserole and your childhood bedroom. Spain seems like just one more thing that’s gone the way of high school relationships and deceased grandparents: there will always be a hole and an ache for the things you left in the past but, with time and new memories, it gets smaller.

2. The panic. You’re lulled into a false sense of security for the first few weeks. This is so easy! you think triumphantly. I should come home from foreign countries more often! And then the panic sets in. Is this it? Is it all over? This big, significant thing that you spent the last ten months living and will impact the person you are for years to come is now just one more memory out of many, like losing your two front teeth at that roller rink or your first heartbreak. What if you forget the language and the lessons and the person you became? What was the point of any of it if you can’t point to at least one thing and say, “And that’s what I learned in Spain.”?

3. Happiness is slippery and evasive and rare. This is the biggest shock that I was not prepared for. In Spain, happiness came easy. It fell in my lap like sunshine, it blew in on the breeze with my curtains through the open window, it was mixed into my tinto de verano and its the stuff that they cure hams with.

This isn’t rose-colored glasses talking; there certainly were frustrating times and hard times and dull times and times when I missed home. But, as a whole, my life was happier there. What makes happiness so easy when you’re not at home? Is it the climate? Is it the lack of responsibilities or reality? Whatever it is, I took it for granted and I want it back.

Maybe these are lessons that you already knew. Maybe they were lessons that already knew, but this is the fourth thing that no one ever tells you about: you have to relearn them, and so much more, when you come home. How did happiness work before? In Spain, it just happened, but now: do I make it? Is it given to me? Do I take it? Where does it come from? This panic that reminds me I was made for greater thing, that I lived greater things, and now my life is a duller sliver of what it was: how do I get past it? This is more than deep breaths and positive visualization. This false sense of comfort lulls me to sleep and I have to fight tooth and nail to work harder and dream bigger than my high school self would’ve been content with.

10600423_10152611581816445_6080491504569030353_n

Life from Here On Out

Y’know how people always say that it’s better to “have loved and lost than to never have loved at all”? Well, I’d like to call bullshit. Sometimes I think it would’ve been much better if I’d never experienced Montana or lived in Spain so that I wouldn’t have to feel this heartache that hits me in the gut so hard that I have to stop and catch my breath.

This is the fifth thing that they never told me about coming home: nothing is ever the same. Sure, it feels like home and looks like home and it smells like home, but it’s different. Or, rather, it’s not different: you are. And you can sleep in your old bed and hang out with your old friends, but it’s not the old you that’s doing these things. If home is where your heart is, this can never be your whole-hearted home again–just like Spain never felt like a complete fit–because pieces of your heart are missing: you’ve carelessly left slivers of yourself in Gardner, MT and Huercal-Overa, and College Station and Washington D.C. and wherever else you’ve been that you’ve lived.

But, what’s done is done. I’ve loved and I’ve lost and I’m back in the States. I don’t know where I’m going next or what I’m doing but I do know that my heart isn’t here in the Bay Area.

Or, maybe, once I leave, I’ll find that I was wrong. Maybe the Bay Area was just my rebound home and for that, San Francisco, I apologize: you didn’t get the best of me.

10527888_10152515766426445_8649631943637508783_n

What I learned from Standing Still

Nothing.

After spending a month in Texas, I was given/offered/handed the opportunity to go to California for a while. It was a sweet deal–free rent, paying job, indefinite amount of time–that fell together so quickly that I thought it was Meant To Be, with capital letters.

And then I spent two months out here. I applied for countless jobs was offered zero interviews. I made all of five friends. California was not the American Dream I’d been led to believe.

So, two months later I say the words out loud, “I haven’t been happy for a while.” This acknowledgment brings me a surprising amount of peace but still something holds me back from cutting the ties completely and going somewhere else.

I feel like I’ve failed. I came all the way out here and what do I have to show for it? I thought California would be the Land of Opportunities and instead I’ve found the Land of Waiting. I’ve had some nice times with some nice people, some good stories to tell, but nothing that’s made me stop and say “Damn.” Maybe this is a consequence of a post-Spain life. Happiness is hard and breathtaking moments are just as rare.

But after a talk with Kristen, who feels similarly about the Bay Area and is preparing to cut her own ties with the Golden State and give Colorado a try, I have to admit, I’ve had a good summer. And maybe that’s all I get.

What I learned from standing still out in California is nothing. But maybe that’s okay. Maybe I’ve had enough personal growth and life-changing lessons for several years to come. Maybe I was supposed to just come out here and have some fun and drink too much whiskey and never ride a cable car and get on a first name basis with the receptionist at my dentist’s office and wear some Superbowl rings and accept that not everything ends with a life lesson.

 

10505286_10152517769546445_1548162075459161982_n 10526039_10152565281891445_5948576397136894274_n 10405577_10152531641636445_7780078761389994867_n

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

Ex-Pat Games

In honor of my flight to Italy being cancelled THREE DAYS before I was supposed to leave, while I’m scrambling to find some travel alternatives, I thought I’d enlighten you on some games that us young ex-pats like to play whilst abroad.

How Can I Get There for Very Cheap Game

Objectives: Get there for very cheap.

Rules: Pay little to no money.

Directions: Employ every method you have in your arsenal: Skyscanner.com, Hostels.com, Alsa, BlahBlahCar, basic human interaction. Fly Ryanair. Buy a suitcase that fits their stringent luggage requirements, then load that baby down and take it everywhere. Speak the language when necessary, play the mute card when necessary.

Be flexible. The cheapest flights are usually the ones that no one wants, i.e. early in the morning, or too late to make sense. Prepare for 4 AM check-ins.

And, if your flight gets cancelled three days before you’re supposed to leave for a week in Italy and the only other available flight means that you have to leave TOMORROW, book it.

Guess What Nationality I Am Game

Objective: Guess my nationality. (I’m like the Lily’s dad from HIMYM of board game titles)

Rules: Don’t ask, just assume.

Directions: Identify the person as non-Spaniard, guess every nationality that doesn’t make sense and then some. I have been identified as French, German, some kind of Scandinavian, British, and Australian multiple times, but never American. Have you heard my accent?

Sunday Night Dinner Game, Or, Alternatively, The Saturday Night Mercadona Game

Objective: Feed yourself on Sunday.

Rules: Everything is closed on Sunday.

Directions: Depending on your plans for the weekend affects how you play this game. If you stay in your hometown, then choose the Saturday night version. If you’ve spent the weekend away and are only returning on Sunday night, please select the Sunday night version.

SATURDAY NIGHT VERSION: Lounge about your room/apartment/village until the last possible minute. Realize that the grocery closes in 30 minutes. Grab your shopping bag and wallet, make a dash to the Dia/Mercadona/Lidl/Carrefour of your choice. Have absolutely no plan so that, when you arrive at the store, you buy things like spicy mustard and chicken seasoning, but nothing that makes sense like cheese and water and bread. Wait for Sunday, wonder what you’ve done and why you have nothing to eat.

SUNDAY NIGHT VERSION: Return to your home, collapse in your bed and lay there with your computer propped on your boobs watching SNL until hunger prompts you from your nest. Realize that you have nothing edible or easily prepared. Create a masterpiece that would make your drunk, college-self proud. Recent hits include:

-egg, beef, pepper, onion, rice, or, as I later realized, essentially a breakfast taco

-marinera, greek yogurt, and mayonnaise for pasta sauce (created by Laurel Hess)

-toast and ali-oli

Meet the American Game

Objectives: Introduce an American to all of your friends and family

Rules: Must be Spanish.

Directions: If you’re the American, you don’t really do much. Besitos, smile, basic Spanish greetings. Answer the same questions over and over. This is actually usually a really fun, if exhausting game. People are so nice and, usually, considerate enough to speak slow enough for you to follow. Sometimes, they tell the same story over and over, and if they’re 83 year old Spanish grandpas named Pablo and the story is, “En ingles, me llamo Peter,” well, then, it’s just downright adorable.

Street-Crossing Game

Objectives: Cross a street without a crosswalk sign.

Rules: Don’t die?

Directions: Prepare yourself. Bounce on the balls of your feet. Look left, look right, even if it’s a one-way street. Be confident, swagger if possible. Move so slowly that it appears you’re about to be hit by that car that just stepped on the gas to hit you, let it graze your leg, leap the last few inches to the other side, triumphant. It’s a rite of passage and you’re not really Spanish until you recklessly cross a street.

This game is, obviously, played in other countries to varying degrees. Check your local listings for appropriate rules and directions.

backpack

My sidekick for the next week, apparently starting tomorrow.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Left Behind

day13books2

Close up of all of its beautiful, color-coordinated glory.

Does it need any more explanation than this?

Something possessed me, the day before I was moving out of the room where I’d lived for two years, that instead of packing clothes and boxing stuff up for storage, this is what I really needed to be doing.

My parents owned the house that I lived in during my last two years of college. When I first moved in, as the only girl in a house with one older brother and one older male cousin, I was lucky enough to get the master bedroom with attached bathroom. When I moved out, two cousins remained, uninterested in relocating all of their things into the bigger bedroom. My old bedroom then became a guest room for visiting friends and family. All of my art, furniture, and books remained while everything else was boxed up and stacked in the closet.

I’ve come a long way from the days where I used to hide in my closet just to get some space to read in space. The funny thing is, even though I have this perfectly lovely nook, my favorite place to read is still halfway under my bed, wedged between the wall and the bed frame. But it’s just so dang pretty to look at!

Not to mention that I reread books the way some people reread movies. It’s heaven having all of your favorites within reach of your fingertips. Long car trip? Please turn your eyes to the pink section of (mostly) chick-lit fiction. Feeling a little lost and needing some perspective? Dark blues and blacks contain some thought-provoking literary fiction that both entertains and instructs.

And each book has a memory. Just looking at this grainy picture I can already put together shapes and colors. I read about 200 hundred pages of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead on a six hour car trip to Frisco with my grandfather; Rebel Angels by Libba Bray on another such car trip. The yellow copy of the Writer’s Market on the second shelf was a graduation gift of sorts from my high school English teacher. The blue and white yearbook is a year-long labor of love from my senior year as editor of the yearbook (I’m still fuzzy on how that whole thing happened; not the yearbook, but how I got the position of editor of it). I reread Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility every January and The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder is one of a handful of books that has ever made me cry.

I miss owning things. I love how simple my life is become, how little I need and how easily maps and postcards become equivalent to canvas and pottery in terms of decoration, but I’m a child of consumerism. I grew up in a house with space for things and there is always a part of me that buys something with the explicit purpose of the one-day promise of a place where I can have all of my things in one space.

day13books1

The full nook, complete with plastic duck “borrowed” (indefinitely) from a bar in Montana.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Day 11

I wish that, when I started this blog, I would’ve written more. It started with the purest of intentions: just a thing to write a step-by-step itinerary of my travels in and around Europe to let my parents know that I was not starring in a real-life version of Taken (their personal nightmare. Liam Neeson, my father is not. He’s more of a MacGyver, with the balding good looks of Matthew McConaughey). And then my over-ambitious writer’s side took over.

Let’s really make it pop! I thought. Let’s give it some razzle dazzle, some pizzaz! (I really love words with double z’s, can’t you tell?) And the writing should be quality, too. There should be themes and symbolism and Instagram pictures! Who doesn’t look Instagram pictures? Every writer has the area where they excel; my strengths lie in research papers and (attempted) novel writing. A master of brevity, I am not.

So my blog posts became these big, hulking things that demanded at least six hours of sit-down-work-on time, plus a certain number of worthy Instagram photos needed to be accumulated. I wish that I would’ve just sat down and wrote more and let my voice develop with each post: good, bad, or ugly.

Tagged , , ,