I’m Back

I’ve returned to the USA. There’s cheese here; I like that.

It’s been a great joy to see so many people I haven’t seen for so long. My social plate has been full for the last week and a half, and I hope all my friends know how wonderful it is to see their faces and hear their voices.

People keep asking how it is to be back; and it’s good. It’s surreal how ordinary it all feels, almost like the last year never happened and I’m back where I’m supposed to be. I’m different, though. The ten months abroad gave me a lot, in terms of focus, identity, belief.

Currently I’m existing in a state of unknowns. Thankfully I saved enough to invest in some things I need (an American phone, a drawing tablet that works, new interview shoes), but things cost a lot in America—like, so much—and I need an income sooner rather than later. I expected to feel more anxiety about that, but I’m putting a lot of energy toward the search, and it all has to work out one way or another. Housing is also an issue, and unexpectedly so, but I know we’ll find a solution.

My most overwhelming reverse-culture shock moment so far happened while walking into a Hannaford grocery store last Sunday. There are many Hannaford stores all over the greater Portland area, and for the two years I worked as bus driver Hannaford was my home-away-from-home. You can always find bus parking in a Hannaford parking lot, and I used to go in at least once a day to use the bathroom and grab a snack, or even get lunch from the wings/salad bar. While riding back from the airport, just seeing the Hannaford sign gave me a surprisingly intense shot of nostalgia.

So I walked into Hannaford on a Sunday morning, concise grocery-list in hand, and it was SO STRANGE to be alone in a public place and feel like I was meant to belong.

Every time I went into a mall or grocery store or market in Phitsanulok, I knew that I stood out. I was the tall foreigner who didn’t speak the language, and couldn’t be expected to know how to do anything. If I ever needed help, or if the cashier needed to tell me that it was buy-one-get-1-free on one of my items (which I never knew while getting it off the shelf because I couldn’t read the sign), it meant we were in for a half-mimed and half-understood conversation of broken Thai and broken English. I became really accustomed to that feeling of standing out, of being watched, of sales people whispering to each other when they saw me and then sending their best English-speaking representative over to ask if I needed anything.

So it was bizarre to be in a large store and to feel like everyone around me expected me to fit in and know exactly how to behave. It felt like a lot of pressure, suddenly, like if I messed up people would judge me. I didn’t realize that the lack of expectations for my behavior in a foreign country was actually freeing, in some ways, and belonging in a place visually made me feel like an imposter. Especially since I couldn’t remember where the coffee aisle was, and hadn’t steered a shopping cart in months.

I’m also really scared that Hannaford has stopped making lemon poppyseed muffins, which were my favorite. They did them perfect, too, soft on the inside and crispy on top. I need to try a different store, or a different day, to confirm. All I know is that the back bay store didn’t have them on Sunday, and it was a bummer.

That’s all for now! Despite the muffins, it’s great to be back.