Thursday, July 25, 2013

4th of July

July 4, 2013

This year, a full year after returning to the United States from everywhere else, I looked back on a wonderful and enriching set of memories traveling and sorted out a bit of space for a special appreciation of my hometown.  Of course, America's independence day celebrates the country's birthday along with founding American ideals such as free speech and the freedom to do more or less whatever you want with your life.  For me, the 4th was a welcome celebration of time at home with my family - all of us were finally there at the same time!

We found this raccoon in the backyard
while gardening.
Last year, I returned from Madrid on July 1st and left again for Vietnam on July 4th...perhaps not the most patriotic departure date or destination, but it was a great and eye-opening vacation.  This year on the 4th, I helped my family with a little gardening, went to have lunch with extended family, and watched a local display of fireworks.  Some people feel the urge to leave their small towns of origin, to escape to bigger and better things and never look back.  I love to travel, explore, and experience life in other cities and abroad, but I've never felt that way about home.  Watching the fireworks, I felt right in place between my family, friends, and the pungent smell of bug spray.  Coming home, even to a town where North Face is the winter uniform and Under Armour with a side of Starbucks is the summer uniform, is always comfortable because it's home.

Since returning to the US, I have come to realized that just as going abroad has stages of adjustment, so does coming home.  Many study abroad programs explain to the students that going abroad is a roller coaster of emotions starting with ecstatic happiness mixed with some anxiety.  Some students transition into nervous homesickness, others flourish, and a third group fluctuates between the two, with most eventually evening out to enjoy and appreciate the experience.  When a person returns home, there's usually a "that other place was so authentic" phase (whatever that means), a "here's what's wrong with where I'm from" phase (usual complaints include too much technology and too little in-person interaction), and finally an enhanced appreciation for your place of origin (drying my clothes in a drier!).  I've reached the third phase and a pleasant realization that in some senses, I can use both experiences to inform my life by mixing and matching.  It's as simple as peanut butter and jelly with a side of gazpacho.  In the end, I'm learning the one phase that never passes is "When can I go back and also go everywhere else on my travel list?"

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