As I unpack my suitcase from the holiday weekend, it’s hard not to feel a twinge of sadness at finally putting it away. I know that any suitcase of mine shall not remain dormant for long, but with no travel plans in the near future, it is finally time for me to accept the fact that I’m back in Ohio…for now.
So much preparation and anticipation is put into the months and weeks leading up to a trip, specifically one of the abroad-for-two-months nature, but little is ever discussed about how to adjust once regular life catches up with you again. I anticipated some weariness upon returning home but thought it would involve time changes and remembering how to drive my car. Those issues were ironed out within the first few days. What really sneaks up on you is the wave of nostalgia that inevitably hits when you realize, no, you’re not in Paris anymore.
The first sentimental moments hit before I had even landed back in America. Saying goodbye to Paris and my new friends was hard and tears might have been shed on the flight home. But the excitement of seeing my family at home and being back in my own house firmly took over immediately upon re-entry. My first 10 days were marked with busy family obligations and an exciting trip to visit friends in Chicago, leaving me little time to reflect on how different my everyday life would now be.
After a week of “normal” life at home: starting a new job, completing weekly errands like grocery shopping and mowing the grass, the second wave of emotions tends to hit rather hard. I know that I have made the right decision, in returning home and starting up the American-Dream-Life again, but that does little to extinguish the feelings of melancholy that my Parisian adventure is all over.
Writers and travelers are always debating whether post-trip funk (PTF) is a legitimate condition. Now, I’m not sure that it’s considered a diagnosable disease, but I also know from talking to all sorts of travelers, that a seamless transition back into American life is basically nonexistent. Nobody at home understands just what you’ve been through, and feelings of guilt and shame accommodate every story you have to tell. If you spent time in a third world country, then Americans seem spoiled and wasteful. If you spent time deployed in a war zone, then we’re trivial and frivolous. And if you spent time in a location on the other end of the spectrum, like Paris for instance, then we’re boring and uncultured.
While we’re all a little bit of all those adjectives, it’s not like spending time abroad will prompt you to hate America. In fact, it usually does the complete opposite for me. We live in an extremely comfortable society but we tend to take our comforts for granted. Not to be confused with living in a happy society; our comforts include driving everywhere, air conditioning and presenting false niceties to every stranger on the street. It is what we’re used to and what I find myself complaining about while abroad. While we might come off as insincere to Europeans, who find it impossible to smile if not genuinely happy, I appreciate the fact that my cashier and the random stranger on the street will smile and say hello. Those are things that make America comfortable and things that I tend to value greatly upon a return home.
Regardless of returning to my comfortable surroundings at home, I still feel the funk. One of the reasons for this is we return home a different individual from the person that left. My host mom repeatedly asked how I had changed while living in France. I kept putting off the question, knowing that I would not truly understand what had transformed until I was back in my normal life. While I’m sure that some changes will not become apparent until much later down the road, I do know that some things have altered in the few weeks that I’ve been back. I’m making a considerable effort to be more active in general: walking to places if possible although suburban America is not set up to be pedestrian-friendly. I’m enjoying the freedom of obtaining my own groceries again but have significantly altered the items present on my shopping list to include less processed varieties and more fresh. I’ve decided that living out of a suitcase for 2 months (and not wearing half of the items that were packed) means that I can live with much less STUFF on an everyday basis. I’m currently in the process of going room to room through my house and getting rid of excess. I’m making an effort to slow things down and try to focus on one task at a time. I often find myself online while watching TV while cooking dinner while doing laundry and not giving any task full attention. It was my dream when moving to Europe and subsequently my goal for re-entry into normal life to slow it down and be more “present” in life. And lastly, I have been forced to stop living in the comfortable life of old routines and only my existing friends. In Paris, I knew nobody and found that if you put forth a little effort, it is really very easy to make new friends. I’m hoping to bring that mentality back to Ohio with me, stepping out of my comfort zone to get involved in new activities and hopefully meet awesome new people.
Instead of fighting the PTF head on, I’ve decided to embrace it. I’m reveling in the new “me” that returned from France and having a blast reminiscing about what lead me to this point. I don’t try to bring up stories on purpose, but I take pride in sharing them when someone asks. And most importantly, I’m focusing on looking forward to the next adventure rather than living in the past. I don’t know exactly what that will entail yet but I have a feeling that I may need some Spanish knowledge. So with that being said, and the goal of meeting new people and trying new challenges in mind, I shall now dismiss the PTF discussion and head to my first Spanish Meetup event. Au revoir and adiós folks, thanks for following my journey!
Exploring the city alone on my first day
Saying goodbye to friends on my last night