We don’t quite fit in anymore.
While it wasn’t the first time either of us had left the country, it was, by far, the longest. We spent almost a year in Central America, learning Spanish, exploring Mayan ruins as a part of our everyday lives, and living in perpetual motion. We live for connecting with people outside of our native culture but most of the time, we are at least a little bit outside the norm wherever we go. Sometimes our need to walk too fast gives away our NYC roots. Other times our inability to haggle very well outs us as being American. At all times, our accents scream, “I’m not from here!”. Adapting our clothing, our habits, and our interactions appropriately to the culture around us has become second nature. We are used to feeling a bit different. Used to it, except when we come back “home”.
Returning home is something most travelers look forward to on some level. The family, the friends, the food, the BATHTUBS! There is a lot to look forward to and a lot to miss when we leave again. But returning also brings a unique set of challenges.
What do you do when Christmas no longer feels like a magical explosion of toys, when it now feels like an overindulgence in a consumerist culture that may not really be getting us anywhere? What do you do when you feel uncomfortable talking about those things that most intrigue you for fear of offending those you love most? What happens when no one asks about your travels and you are left wondering why Kim Kardashian intrigues them more than what’s going on outside their border? How do you explain that the malls, the chain restaurants, and mass produced clothing stores that excite everyone around you hold absolutely no interest for you any longer? Where do you turn when the complaints and worries being shared with you now have to do with cell phones and sneakers instead of the life threatening challenges you have seen like starvation and lack of clean drinking water? What do you say when the very real people you have met on your journey are used as nothing more than political talking points back home without regard for their individual existence? How do you tell people that nice houses, good jobs, and desirable schools no longer define “success” in your mind… without offending them?
What do you do when you feel like an outsider in your own culture?
Being in our home country no longer feels like being “home”. Home for us has happily begun to morph and grow into something that is not reliant upon a single house, a specific food, or a small circle of people. The definition of “home” has begun to feel as though it is full of untold possibility. “Home” is everywhere and nowhere all at once.
We don’t quite fit in here anymore. Actually…. maybe we never did! Maybe it took leaving for an extended period for our place in the world to become a little more clear- for those ways we don’t “fit in” to become more obvious. That’s not to say we don’t like it here… there’s a lot to like! But I’m not sure we will ever be 100% comfortable in our own culture again. Traveling extensively across borders and digging deep into cultures and topics that are initially foreign to you inevitably causes you to question things and look critically at almost everything. One’s home culture is not immune to that. In fact, travel basically holds a mirror right up to your home culture and practically screams, “study it, learn from it, and now that you can see a bit more clearly, do better”.
Travel is a tradeoff. Most things in life are because when you make one decision it means you aren’t making another. You gain some and you lose some. In the beginning, we, and everyone else, marveled at how much “stuff” we lost. That was our tradeoff. We gave up everything we possibly could to reach our goal of perpetual travel. This lack of stuff has become part of our “normal”. Now I often find myself looking in on the culture I was born into and I realize that we have lost some of our comfort in exchange for an expanded world view. It’s not always easy and it’s certainly not always comfortable…. but I think I’ll take that trade.