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Bidding goodbye to my home, and a couple of reflections

Time November 15th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Nov. 15, 2013

Tomorrow I’ll be on a plane to Miami, and from there, to Newark, N.J.

And that’s that. That will be the end of my 4-month life in Costa Rica. No more Spanish, no more amazing mountains, jungles and beaches, no more delicious tico food.

No more hometown. No more host family.

No more study abroad.

It’s all a memory. And I’m OK with that.

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Home Sweet Home?

Time June 10th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!/ Hey!

Wow. Sitting there, at the airport in Cairo, the surreal moment suddenly became very real: I was finally going home. I realized that the next day I would not wake up in my apartment in Alexandria. I would not have to haggle with the taxi driver to take me to school. I could no longer not walk down to Tibawy and order foul and falafel or shwarma sourie freckh. I would no longer work out with my friends at the Tamarin Center. I would no longer be able to speak Arabic in the streets, see it on t.v., listen to it on the radio. So many things I would never be able to experience again. So many things that were about to change.

These last four months have been a whirlwind of excitement, adventure, independence and new experiences. I have made life-long friends and created memories I will always treasure. But there have been hard times too. I have doubted my strength on numerous occasions. I have wanted to quit, to go home. I have failed, made mistakes, and gone the wrong way. To describe my time in Egypt in one simple paragraph would be impossible, yet I suppose the main idea would be that I have never felt more alive than when I was in Egypt. For good or for bad. I have grown-up emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. I have learned so much about Egypt, the Middle East, and the world. More than that I have learned about America. I have heard the way others view my homeland, despite how much it stung to listen. Being in Egypt was so eye-opening, such a test of my character while at times it was also like a giant vacation – 4 days of classes/ week, no NROTC to wake up for a 5:30am, no meetings to attend, no philanthropy events to host. I have never been more thrilled, more happy, more embarrassed, or scared than when I was in Egypt. I truly lived my time there to the fullest. I saw everything, ate (almost) everything. Everyday was a new experience, a new chance to explore and to learn. I was always on my toes or on the edge of my seat just waiting for the next big adventure.

So now, sitting on my porch at home in a sunny New Hampshire, contemplating what this trip has meant to me, my mind is filled with wonderful memories. I remember the trips I took, the friends I made, the passion I felt towards pursuing a greater goal. But it all feels sort of like a dream. All I have now, besides my journal, a few souvenirs, and some photos, is memories. What’s worse is that no one around me experienced it. When I regal the stories of climbing Mt. Sinai or sleeping in the desert I start to question if they actually happened the way I describe it. Soon the memories will fade and then what will Egypt mean to me? My only fear is losing the passion and the fire that events in Egypt have instilled in me. I want to change the world. I want to make a difference. When I was in Egypt I realized how one person could truly make all the difference. Being back in America, in my “old routine” I know it will be very easy to lose that desire but I don’t want to. My life in America may not be quite the adventure it was in Egypt but it is still an adventure and there will always be things to explore, new places to see and people to meet.

As far as return-culture shock, it has definitely affected me more than I thought it would. I still have some rather comical habits that I can’t quite break; such as throwing my used toilet paper in a trash can instead of the toilet and wincing every time I see a police cruiser. I have noticed the women wearing hijabs and felt an ache to speak with them in Arabic (but then not approaching them for fear they don’t actually speak fluent Arabic). I have also never noticed how much sports clothing Americans wear. Its everywhere! Or how clean EVERYTHING is haha. More than that, however, I have seen America in a new light. All the stereotypes and critiques I heard about Americans while I was in Egypt have instilled in me a new perspective on Americans. Now I see big ol’, waving red flags everywhere I look. The middle-school age girls at my local grocery store dressed like they were college-age women headed to some downtown club. The fat people in scooters or wheelchairs because they are far too lazy to walk. How rude people can be even while waiting in line for a bus. I remember what it meant for Egyptians to have clothes on their backs, to have proper food to eat, their appreciation for the basic and simple. I remember their hospitality and how a guest, even a stranger, can never turn down an offer for a drink. I miss these things and I miss my friends. I miss taking part in a new adventure every weekend. I miss everyday being a learning experience and a test. Reverse culture shock is also funny in the way that I didn’t realize. I have truthfully forgotten a couple cultural norms for Americans. For example, when ordering food or denying an offered beverage. But luckily I have friends and family here that can shoulder the cultural norms for me haha.

Being back in America does have its perks though, don’t get me wrong. I have already gone for a run twice in the streets. I have worn shorts and skirts and t-shirts in public. I have cranked up my favorite music on the radio and rolled the car windows down in order to better shout it out. I have driven a car. But most importantly, I have eaten every American dish that I could get my hands on. I don’t miss the traffic, the dirty streets, the corrupted police of Egypt but I do miss the people and the simple appreciations they have.

I don’t know how long these conflicting feelings will last about my home. I hope I can maintain some sense of objective criticism of America since I do intend to become involved in world politics one day but I also look forward to truly enjoying being home. I don’t want to forget my time in Egypt and I don’t want to forget the desire I have to change that region’s political structure for the better. Right now my experience in Egypt seems like a dream but hopefully as I tell my stories, more people will be able to relate to what I went through over there. Now, no one seems to really understand but in time I hope and believe they will. Maybe then my reunion with America will truly mean home sweet home.

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That Strange Country Called “Home”

Time February 14th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Of course, I bawled like a baby on the way to the airport…

 

(“Sorry I’m not very good company,” I blubbered to the taxi driver.

No, por favor. Llora tranquila,” he said. Please. Go ahead and cry. And then he handed me a pack of Kleenex, bless his heart.)

 

By the time I got settled on my plane, I was more or less done sobbing for Argentina and the people I left behind in it. But as soon as I saw the familiar lizard-printed carpet tiles in the El Paso airport, I started to have a mini-panic attack. Put me back on the plane, send me back!! It was amazing how unreal everything felt, though the places and faces were essentially the same as I had left them. And then I saw my mom and my little sister and started crying all over again because I had no idea what to do with myself.

 

In the car, it took me approximately 5 minutes to annoy my mother to death. I couldn’t stop pointing at everything out the window that I hadn’t seen in half a year: “Whoa, Chipotle Grill! We have one of those here! Oh man, and Carl’s Jr. too! Weird! Oh it’s so weird. I never noticed how big our highways were before! Oh, billboard in English—weeeeeeeeeeeeird.”

 

And I’ve stopped freaking out about it, but it’s still kinda strange. I don’t know if I like it or not.

 

Things I missed out on while I was away: Les Miserables, all the media flak about the school shooting, Hurricane Sandy, the release of that catchy Taylor Swift song, my little sister growing two inches.

 

Things I forgot existed and didn’t realize how much I’d missed until I could have them again: my mom’s red beans and rice, huevos rancheros for breakfast, bubble tea, Target, Reeses peanut butter cups, curry powder, free refills, unlimited texting, Pandora.com, Netflix, my kitchen, my bed, wall outlets that already fit my plugs and work perfectly without having to be jiggled around, Arizona iced tea, hot chocolate with marshmallows.

 

It’s safer here. I don’t have to watch my things quite as carefully. Oh, the things we Yankees take for granted!

 

And my dog gave me the best welcome home ever. He was just beside himself wiggling and jumping and running around the yard like crazy. I was so happy to see him it hurt.

 

And all of that’s nice, of course, but at the same time…

 

Where is all the neon, polyester clothing? The thick-soled sandals and beat up, Velcro closure sneakers? Why is there so much open space and no pedestrians?  Why is everything stucco, and where is my brick? Where are all the kioskos, the alfajores, the stars? Why aren’t there any boliches in SoCal suburbia? Why aren’t men shouting at me when I walk down the street? (Am I still a girl?) WHY IS EVERYTHING IN ENGLISH?

 

One of the strangest things for me has been speaking English to strangers. It surprised me just how weird it felt because I spoke a lot of English while I was in Argentina, especially in my last weeks… (oops.) But I realized that it was because English had become an intimate language for me, the secret language I shared with my tribe of loved ones, while Spanish was the public language. I never spoke English to shop owners, public officials, strangers on the street. Here, it’s the other way around.

 

Even the phrase “loved ones” seems to have shifted beneath my feet. It’s not that I don’t still love my old friends, but it’s been more of a process readjusting to them than you might think. Many of my friends studied abroad last semester, and like me they’ve also changed in many subtle ways that even they haven’t finished working out about themselves yet. Last night I had a conversation with one of my friends that went more or less like this:

 

“Why do you always have to do that?”

 

“It’s what I do! I’ve always been like that. It was never a problem for you before.”

 

“Well, now it is.”

 

We’re working on it.

 

As for the rest of my social circle… They’re eager to hear about my adventures, yes, but in a cursory kind of way. People keep asking me big, broad questions with too many answers like, “How was study abroad? Did you like Argentina? What did you do?” and they ask me in passing or in the elevator or in the lunch line. Okay, sure, let me just jam 5 months of life-altering experiences into a 5 second sound byte. No problem. I understand it’s not their fault necessarily—of course they don’t understand my experience if they’ve never been to Argentina, and how else are they going to understand if they don’t ask? But it’s still maddening.

 

A few of my old friends have been to Argentina, and every time I see them I can’t help but call out, “Che boludo, que onda? Como andas?” Giddy with the knowledge that they get it. They know what I’m talking about. I’m starved for Argentine slang and humor.

 

I found out that there’s actually an Argentine store within 20 minutes of my campus. I’m heading there with a friend tomorrow to stock up on mate and alfajores. I’m excited to share Argentine goodies with my friends and explain to them a bit about why these things are special to me. …But it’s not quite the same as breezing by a kiosko with my chicas and talking about our shared daily existence there.

 

…However, as much as I cried and stomped my feet and pitched a fit about leaving Argentina… I realized as soon as I hit the airport that it really was time to leave. I hate the fuss and stress of the airport, but I got a thrill from passing other travelers, overhearing snatches of their conversations, speculating what their stories might be. They could be from anywhere. For all they know, I could be from anywhere, going anywhere. And even better: I remembered that, hey, I’m young, I’m strong, I’m savvy. I CAN go anywhere.

 

I can do anything that I want.

 

The last thing I did in Argentina was to buy myself one last legal drink. (Mostly to get rid of the last of my Argentine pesos.) Turned out it was from Mendoza—nice surprise. :)

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I did a silent cheers to Argentina, to Buenos Aires, to the people I met, to airports, to travel, and most of all…to myself. For all the things I’ve learned and accomplished. For all the things I will learn and accomplish.

 

I had my adventures, I had my fling, and I think I did both of those al maximo. There’s still a big wide world out there, and it’s time for me to get back to it.

 

I’m thinking next stop is India. Japan. Israel. Maybe Alaska, Hawaii, New Zealand.

 

Quien sabe?

 

Thanks for reading, everyone. Happy travels.

 

Previous Posts

  1. Antes de que me voy  (Before I Leave)
  2. Host Families and Fun with Public Transportation
  3. “Are You the Girl with the Blog?”
  4. Playing Tourists in Buenos Aires
  5. Looking Good, Mendoza!  
  6. A Detailed Guide on All Things Micro 
  7. Trip to Las Termas
  8. Daily life in Mendoza
  9. Habia una vez en los Andes… 
  10. Night of the Soccer Game 
  11. Road Trip! 
  12. My Mate for Life 
  13. Ringo vs. Chuck Norris 
  14. Pros and Cons 
  15. CHI CHI CHI, LE LE LE, VIVA CHILE!
  16. Philosophical Moments in Neuquen
  17. Cordoba and Oktoberfest
  18. Some tips about Hostels
  19. Student Life in Mendoza
  20. Trabajo Voluntario
  21. San Rafael
  22. The Chicas Take Chile
  23.  Soaking up the Last of the Sun – Mar del Plata
  24. The Return to BA
  25. Un Repasito
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