Yeah, yeah, yeah…and I’ll never be the same again.
One month ago I boarded a plane headed for Bogotá, then another to JFK. I landed at 5:30AM, hailed a taxi and went to my friend’s apartment in Brooklyn where I would crash for the next few days. The next day I went to work, and once 5PM rolled around I went apartment hunting.
Life hasn’t slowed down since. I bought a bike to save money on subway rides, and I’m riding an hour to and from work five days a week. When I’m not biking or working, I’m often going to Latin music events with Claudia or seeing friends from college who I’ve missed for the past six months.
Things were a bit strange at first. My second night back in the city, I went to a party in the Lower East Side with one of my best friends, and I was taken aback when nobody greeted us as we walked in the door. For the past six months, I’ve received a handshake or a besito every time I entered a room, and I felt slighted when these people didn’t even nod their heads to acknowledge our arrival. I realized I was the awkward one, though, as I said goodbye to “the guys” at the end of the night and shook each of their hands, telling them to take care and that I hoped to see them soon. Their handshakes were weak, as though they weren’t sure why me leaving a party called for such a formality.
Perhaps these greetings aren’t necessary, but they are something I hope to continue doing now that I’m back in the States. To me, it’s a polite gesture to take five seconds to shake somebody’s hand or kiss somebody on the cheek, a way that we can pause the day for just a moment and let somebody important in our lives know that we care about her or him.
As a good friend of mine pointed out, one of the amazing things about studying abroad is that it gives you a chance to remake your life and see what aspects of it you want to keep the same and what you might like to change.
Another aspect of Peruvian life that I hoped to hold on to was the freedom to stop at any point in the day, sit down on the grass with a friend, and talk for hours as though neither of us had any responsibilities pending. But I haven’t had any of those spontaneous hangout sessions; I haven’t even made time to schedule more than two hangouts with my best friend, and now he’s out of the city and in Beirut.
What’s frightening is how easy it is to fall into a different routine once you’ve left the country, how easily these ideas slip out of the mind and life becomes, more or less, what it was before I went to Peru.
There are some differences, but now I find myself without a moment to pause and think about how I’m living now and if it is what I wanted for myself as I was leaving Peru. This is the first time I’ve sat down to write in the last month. And, while I’m having fun, and quickly readjusting to life back in the States, I feel that I’m failing to make a “good” transition.
Back at the party, or at work, or on the streets, life still feels weird. Spanish words sometimes slip out of my mouth, and it’s the first language I want to speak when I’m on the street before I realize that, even in New York, English is the default language. It’s strange to pay for the bus with an electronic card as you get on the bus – I still expect the cobrador to approach me and demand a higher rate than s/he should. It’s nice not to be stared at all the time, but it’s jarring when you realize that you became accustomed to staring at people, too. Life here is surreal. But that’s part of the transition, and its one of the gifts a semester abroad has left me. It’s a constant reminder that my reality isn’t the only reality, that there are billions of people out there eating, talking, and living in ways similar to yet different from my ways of being. Including the people in my own backyard for whom I need to make more time. Starting now.