They say you can’t go home again, and I’ve never believed this to be true. Coming home from Thailand, from Nepal, from India, and even from bush Alaska, I always felt that Alaska was my true home and Homer was where my heart was.
This time, it’s a little different.
Rob and I returned to Alaska at the end of June, finished with our Peace Corps service and ready to re-enter the world of culinary delights and customer service. We immediately set about stuffing ourselves with every saucy plate of spicy, flavorful goodness we could find. We drove – for the fun of it. We watched TV. We frolicked through the internet and watched cat videos and Netflix and read every interesting article right when it was published. We drank (and drank, and drank) good beers and ciders (which seem to have become more popular while we were away). We rejoiced in pizza with real cheese and a fiesta of toppings. Later, we enjoyed quality bathroom time that didn’t involve squatting over a hole and wasn’t a mystery in digestive intolerance. It was glorious. It felt like home.
Slowly, though, we began to notice all the little things about America that we had forgotten about. Things that we didn’t miss while we were away, and were suddenly brought into stark relief now that we were home and amongst our fellow Americans.
Americans, we had forgotten, are really wrapped up in the little stuff. We care a lot about really trivial things. We have, in my post-Peace Corps opinion, waayy too many choices in most things. We obsess over diets and GMOs and all these other things that, unsurprisingly, are suddenly weird to care about when you’ve been living with people who are excited to have almost any food. We are really into privacy. We like space and ginormous houses. We make a breathtaking amount of trash. Perhaps most surprising/not surprising: we are, as a population, pretty darn fat. We eat an impressive amount of food. I’ve been amazed by portion sizes since coming home, and how rich everything is. And we do this all day, every day (#generalization, but you get the idea).
It’s been culture shock-y to come home. As much as we were sad to leave our Peace Corps service early, Rob and I have both whispered to each other with guilty expressions how glad we were to leave early and have immediate plans for our future rather than finishing our service and having time to “tread water” afterward. I think the transition “home” has been a lot easier than it might have been simply because we have plans, and a place to be. We are transients in America right now, and without even mentioning the pre-election media coverage (or Trump, because #Ijustcan’teven), I feel like that’s exactly how I want to be. America, and even Alaska in some much smaller way, just doesn’t feel like home right now.
You can’t go home again. – Thomas Wolfe
We knew that coming home from Peace Corps would be tough. Nearly every RPCV we’ve ever talked to say the hardest part of Peace Corps service is once it’s finished. The return journey and reintegration into our native culture is harder in many ways, primarily because we no longer have the excuses of language, culture, or nationality to excuse our ignorance. In Zambia we lived with our heads in the proverbial sand when it came to any world event that didn’t make the BBC evening news. We rarely had contact with live media. Being home, we are bombarded by the news at a nearly constant rate, and it’s almost always stressful, upsetting, or scary. Living in Zambia had its stressors, but nothing like the constant-information age we live in here in the U.S. It’s phenomenal how much there is to read about, to listen to, or to watch, and how little of it actually contains information worth the energy it takes to absorb it. I feel exhausted by everyone speaking in idioms about climate change, the 2016 election, or DeflateGate. I want to scream at everyone, “Pick a topic and give a sh*t about it!”
Thankfully, Rob has A) helped taper down my caffeine intake and B) understands the process of coming home. Being able to relate to each other’s experience as we reintroduce ourselves to The West (and her wicked witches) has been indescribably helpful. I honestly can’t imagine what it’s like to do it alone (experientially speaking). Our first year of marriage is working out to be one for the record books. It’s pretty strange to not learn how your spouse drives until you repatriate rather than how one normally would – on a first date!
That’s not to say we’re not having a great time. As you read this, we’re settling into our new apartment in Lillehammer, Norway after three weeks in Alaska, a week in Florida, and a little over three weeks CO. We’ve had a wonderful time with family, hiking, dog reunions, and sampling all of our favorite foods (over and over and over again).
We’ve fulfilled our edible cravings and have been welcomed into the loving arms of family and friends. It’s been wonderful to come back to our respective stomping grounds and be “home”. But, we’ve both realized that Peace Corps changes something about how one sees the world, and we are slowly accepting that being the global citizens we want to be means that we can’t really ever return to our pre-Peace Corps lives where running water was unremarkable and social equity a given.
It hurts a little, almost like losing a friend. I guess, in a way, we’ve lost that part of ourselves that guided our views of the world pre-Peace Corps. Now, we owe it to ourselves and to those who were part of our service to see it differently. I think our challenge now is to rectify that difference in viewpoint with the relationships and homes we had before all those changes. We are different, and though it’s awkward at first, it’s also okay. That was the point. We didn’t join the Peace Corps to remain the same.
Fortunately, some things don’t change. Family. Great beer. Favorite pets. Best friends. We now appreciate more than ever that the most important things in life don’t have a physical address. They remain with us no matter where we call home.