I remember when I got back from South Africa, my first real trip abroad, I had that overwhelming feeling that new traveler’s often have that nothing had changed while I was gone. Everyone was still just plowing away at the same lives they plowed at before I left. They still struggled with the same menial problems at work, shopped at the same stores, ate the same food. Something so deep, I was certain, had changed within me – my mind had been opened to the world – but everything at home was the same. It distanced me from my friends, that self-indulgent, dignified feeling of grand self-worth I carried around.

This time, everything has changed, and everyone has changed. I would say maybe it’s the time difference – five months in South Africa versus a year in Japan. A year is a long time (long enough to get pregnant, have the kid and nobody know, as I describe it), but it’s not the time. It’s not the difference in immersion levels either – South Africa was solid at 40% immersion; Japan was 100%.

I think it’s me. I’m different. I don’t feel important because I’ve seen or done things others haven’t. I don’t feel dignified because my world view has expanded. I feel like I lived a different life and made different choices than my friends here, and neither is better than the other. Really, I may be envious of their choices.

Their problems, their jobs, their lives – they’ve not stayed stagnant. They’ve changed in drastic and important ways. Through it all, they’ve grown and turned into these… adults. These people who live and work in the real world, as college kids everywhere refer to adult life. They’ve made their apartments homes and their homes their private spheres, separate from the professional lives they lead by day. They’ve fallen in and out of love, built lives with significant others that transcend their work problems and family dramas. And they’ve made new friends, learned new cities and experienced new things that I can only imagine (stability, commitment, retirement plans….).

I gallivanted around the world for a year while they’ve grown up in the sincerest meaning of the phrase. They’ve moved on past reminiscing college days and retail jobs and hopeful internships. Now they’re employed, with benefits no less, building careers and families. They’re these beautiful people that it feels like I only recognize in their beautiful faces. I keep reminding myself, much like I do when strangers speak to me in English that I speak that language, too, that I know them. I know their likes and dislikes, their favorite sports teams, their siblings’ names and where they went to school. I know their goals and their dreams, and I know the history we made together. But even as I remind myself of all that, I keep staring blankly, like if I look at them hard enough, take in their faces one more time after a year devoid of them, that it will all come back – that everything will be the same. But with every word I watch come out of their mouths, I know that nothing can be the same. The best, albeit the hardest, part of friendship is watching it ebb and flow and adapt, and I know that the people my friends have become this year are even wiser, funnier and, if possible more beautiful than they were a year ago. Now I just have to re-get to know them.

It’s overwhelming being back among all this change. When I visualized, and I did so many times, arriving back into America, I took myself into a grocery store, a bank, a gas station. I didn’t think to visualize my first steps into my friends’ lives. I couldn’t have imagined how that would feel – overwhelming and comforting all at once, out of place and grounding simultaneously.

My life right now is in a massive red suitcase and a big blue bag, and my overnight that I carry slung on my shoulders. I’m homeless and unemployed, and despite the incredible experiences of the past year, I can’t help but remember what I missed here. My friends are reminders of that. When I left, we were all so scared of what would happen next, the people we would be in a year. We made goals for our year and dreamed up the experiences we thought we’d have (“Cyndi, you should pick ONE country, in case you can only afford to go to one!”).

It’s all so different now that it’s said and done – we’ve met some of our goals and changed others. Our dreams have shifted, and our expectations have been altered.  It will take me a while to get to know them again, to not stare at them, pinching myself as if to remind myself – this is real. But it will happen, and like they did this year, I will build a life for myself here, too. In fact, if their lives and how far they’ve come are anything for me to go off of – I should be encouraged to know that scared and overwhelmed by it all as I may be – I only have to look forward to, like good wine, getting better with time.


~ by C on July 28, 2010.

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