So I am back in the states, for good, or at least the foreseeable future, and trying to answer the question – “Where do I go from here?”
In the last month and a half being home, I have been to eight states, visited a ton of friends, spent countless hours searching job sites on the web and gained nearly ten pounds (thank you America).
Being back in the U.S. is comforting, like a grilled cheese and tomato soup when you’re home sick, but at the same time, I feel like nothing quite fits back into place the way I thought it would.
As a means of self-therapy mostly, I’m going to spend the next few weeks blogging about some lessons and questions I have as I wade through this reverse culture shock thing.
Five Things I Learned This Week:
- Any entree ordered at a restaurant in America will inevitably be large enough to serve a small turkey on.
Wednesday I met a friend at Panera Bread for lunch. We had been trying to get together for like a month now, and our schedules just hadn’t synced up yet.
One of the first things I’ve noticed, coming back to the states, is how big the portions are at restaurants. The kids’ meals at many fast-food places in America are the size of a standard adult meal in China.
With that thought in mind, I decided to order from the kids’ menu – a Turkey and Cheese Sandwich that came with a side of yogurt. When my meal came out the two slices of standard-sized whole wheat bread looked mighty sad on that huge dinner platter, next to my tube of 100% organic, squeezable strawberry yogurt.
Thank you, America for making my perfectly normal sized lunch look like a honey-I-shrunk-the-food meal. This is why I’m gaining weight, big plates make my food look too small.
- Just because someone is speaking Chinese does not mean they want to be my friend.
So I’m still sitting at Panera, after a delicious lunch and brilliant conversation with my friend A, I couldn’t help but notice three young people sitting at the table across the aisle from me. They looked to be of Asian descent and were speaking Mandarin, so of course, my head naturally turned toward the conversation.
Now I’m not normally the kind of person that eavesdrops on other people’s conversations, but in my defense, they were speaking quite loudly and shouting instructions across the restaurant about what they wanted to eat.
After a few minutes of conversation, I asked one of the boys, in Chinese if they were students, and he said they were. It was at this point that the conversation got a bit awkward. He said in English “You are speaking Chinese?”
“You are speaking Chinese?” to which I replied:
“Um, yeah, I guess I am.”
Apparently, this answer was not a normal response because about two minutes later he and his companions immediately got up and headed for the door. Lesson learned – just because someone is speaking Chinese does not mean they want to be my friend.
- Regardless of how connected our world is, finding a job remotely is not actually possible.
So like I said, I’ve officially begun the job-hunt, and it’s not as easy as it sounds. One would think in today’s digital age, with Skype and FaceTime that finding a job in a new city wouldn’t be that difficult. Wrong.
I’ve been looking into jobs in various cities within a reasonable commute from my parents place in Maryland, as well as a few more distant locations, and even found a couple staffing agencies that are willing to work with me. The problem is they won’t do anything for a candidate that’s not local. So much so that I’ve had two marketing companies tell me they would hold my resume, and to call them when I arrive in town.
- Things change, people move on.
One of the hardest things for me, coming back is realizing that my friends’ lives have moved on while I was away. It’s not that they don’t love me anymore, I know they do, it’s just their support system has gone in a different direction, and mine has too.
This feeling was most pronounced while I was traveling, visiting old friends and acquaintances. It became obvious to me very quickly that hitting the “like” button on someone’s Facebook post is not the same as having an actual interaction, or meaningful conversation with a real person, and sometimes your best friends on social media may not be the same as your “real life” best friends. This was new information for me.
- Some things never change.
Probably the number one most frustrating thing about coming home has been not having my own space. Having had my own apartment for the past five years, I’ve grown accustomed to, and cherish my private space as a quiet sanctuary where I can retreat at the end of a busy day. If I want to have a bowl of Cheerios for dinner, I can – no judgments. If I want to go for a morning walk, I can, without fear of being run over by a speeding car going 55mph in a 30mph zone.
My hometown hasn’t changed much in the time I’ve been gone, and there’s still a bed in the spare bedroom where I stay when I come home for the holidays. Some things never change, but the person I have become doesn’t quite fit in the spaces where I once did, and it’s frustrating and difficult to find a place and a life that fits just right, and where I feel like I belong.
I don’t want to end this post on a negative note because I really am having a good time reconnecting with family and friends who I haven’t really seen much of in four years. I just want to encourage all the other expats out there who are returning home and trying to readjust, that there is hope, but it is a process, and it takes time.
Also, if you are a former expat who has any advice for me regarding readjusting to life in America, please leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.