A friend asked me how re-adjusting to life in the US was. I simply replied: “readjusting = boo” and she understood completely. I can’t believe I’ve been putting off writing an entry for a month now (cause for my next post). At first there was too much too say that was too difficult to put into words, and now I’m trying to piece those lost thoughts back together; they’ve grown fuzzy after focusing on getting our life together, applying for jobs, and seeing long-lost friends and family.
First, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about “culture shock.” Not that I don’t love talking about it, but I thought this would be a good place to reflect more deeply about it. Culture shock, to me, has two parts: getting using to everyday things that are profoundly differently to live in another culture, and getting used to how you’ve profoundly, fundamentally changed after living in another culture. The everyday things come with time and patience; the profound change can be lost without vigilance.
The everyday things that are hard to adjust to are numerous, but one of those is consumerism and materialism. This has always been a shocker after returning to the US from every trip I’ve gone it, and though it’s no surprise, it’s still a demon to wrestle with. What was shocking about that recycled, recyclable cutting board at EZ Orchards wasn’t just its existence as a commodity; it was that I wanted it. I want it so I start to justify buying it, coming up with a reasonable plan. At the same time I remember how ridiculous this is compared to the billion people who go hungry each day. Needs versus wants: the keystone to learning to live a balanced life. It’s funny to hear people justify buying this or that because it will make something easier, or save time, or look better. Sure, it will do all those things, but doesn’t anyone stop to think about how sick our culture is if we can’t truly accept someone because their house isn’t big enough, their dishes don’t match, it’s not well-decorated, their lawn isn’t manicured enough, because they don’t have this or that useless commodity? We need to buy certain things to fit in. We need to buy certain time-saving things (i.e. dishwasher, washer and dryer) because we have to live overly busy, “productive” lives to be a normal “American.” Sure, a stainless steel compost container looks better than an old plastic yogurt container, and maybe it keeps flies away and helps with smells, but really? Is that necessary? Do you really need it? I want it, and many other things, and that is a strange shock, because I know better. Do you ever wonder how you end up with over-stuffed closets and garages? It’s because we justify buying things, then buying things for our things, then buying things to store our things, and then buying bigger houses with more storage, so we can buy more things: the multiplication of wants. While traveling we learned to live with very little, and now the amount of stuff we have is stressful. Unpacking boxes is fun, but with it comes the stress of: where do I put it? Do I even still want it? While we gave away probably half of our belongings before we left for this trip, I’m looking forward to weeding out even more unnecessary stuff whenever it is we finally get to unpack. And while I find the amount of things available, and the amount of things I find myself wanting, overwhelming, I do understand that there needs to be a balance, so I’m not going to go around making myself feel guilty all the time or live like a Spartan, because that’s not sustainable either.
This “everyday shock” is related to a profound one: a firm understanding of what matters most. I used to only want to live in cool cities where I didn’t have to drive, where I had fun places to eat and drink, where I had beautiful parks, and cool things to go to and do. I still want to, but I frankly don’t care anymore. I don’t care if I live in Salem or Portland or Seattle, or Sacramento or Texas, because it just doesn’t matter. Some people may think I should be applying for jobs all the time, and not going out kayaking or hiking, but that doesn’t matter either. What matters, in my opinion, is being fully present and focused on whatever’s going on “in the moment” and having quality time with those you love, whether that’s family or friends. So, yes, I’m applying for jobs a lot, but I’m not stressing out about it all the time. I’m only applying for jobs I really want, and I’m keep a schedule that allows me to have free time, and take advantage of the flexibility we have now, because who knows when we’ll have it again. And I’m applying for jobs in Portland, not just because it’s a great city with more opportunities, but because it’s where our dear friends live, yet it’s still close to at least some of our family. And while I’m doing all this I’m trying to learn about my new surroundings and continue to pursue things I’m passionate about, hence trips to the outdoors, bouldering, going to parks, breweries, Timbers games, restaurants, and food carts. If there’s anything we learned while traveling, it’s that you can be in the coolest city in the world, or the most beautiful place, or having the greatest experience of your life, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t have someone to share it with. And if you can learn to say, trust God, and therefore be fully present in whatever your given situation is, you’ll find yourself relatively worry-free, able to enjoy life even though you’re in a rough transition right now. That’s where I find myself most days now, and I pray it will last.
A few other everyday shocks I’ve noticed revolve around cell phones: I find texts irritating now, and would rather just call to talk to someone, which if you know anything about my weird irrational fear of talking on the phone, is quite the big deal. I find myself wanting to turn my cell phone off, like our parents do, which I used to say defeated the purpose of having a cell phone. I love that we’re finally close to friends and family, but I want to see them and talk to them, not hear my phone buzz. I also find it strange that I seemed to have lost my US pedestrian skills, which granted, maybe weren’t great to begin with, as I’m always had a certain affinity for the chaotic systems our Southern neighbors use. At any rate, cross-walks: annoying. Walking in front of cars: normal. Suddenly breaking for pedestrians or cars, being cut off, passed, whatever: normal, not cause for alarm or anger. I hear people around me commenting about such and such traffic situation and getting really worked up about it, and I think, why bother? Everyone’s just fine. I suppose these relates to a profound change in our pace of life. We move slowly, and I like it. I feel centered and balanced, and I hope I can maintain it, even when work begins again.
Also, I find speaking English strange, and find it difficult to read and write at the level I used to, needing extra time to think of the correct word or to having to re-read things to catch the subtle nuances. I also do this with Spanish, meaning, I now struggle in both languages instead of just one. This has been amusing as well as frustrating, especially when writing cover letters or talking in job interviews. I also find it strange to order food in English, and almost always pause before speaking to make sure I’m thinking the right thing to say. I forget people can overhear and understand our conversations, and that tone and mannerisms suddenly matter a great deal more than they did in South America. I also can’t stand commercials now (I feel like they’re simultaneously screaming at me and making my brain go in 1000 directions at once) nor can I really stand most TV programs, even the mindless ones I used to love so much (cooking shows, etc.). 30 Rock has been a saving grace. These, among many others, are the funny, more light-hearted shocks to coming home.
So, those are just a few thoughts that have been rolling around in my head lately about coming home. So far, it’s been pretty great; truly enjoyable and wonderful, so great to see family and friends, and have good food and drinks again, but, the reality of being back is just beginning to set in I think, so I’m sure we’ll face many other challenges to come.
For those interested, pictures of our recent trip to Seattle can be found HERE, more kayaking pictures can be found HERE, pictures from around Portland HERE, and pictures from a recent hike near Mt. Hood can be found HERE.