expat / reverse culture shock / transitions

Day 1/28: Coming Home

Happy February!

Upon finishing my 100 Days Project a few weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to take on a new creative challenge for myself. I have oftentimes tried a handful of attempts at writing a novel or becoming more prolific in my writing. So, I am taking on the challenge of writing one blog post daily for one month. Since returning home to Texas after spending a 14-month stint in Latin America, I feel like this project is the perfect opportunity for me to share my thoughts and experiences from what has been happening.

I hope you enjoy reading my first blog post on my One Blog Post Daily Project.

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Coming Home: Day 1/28
Since returning back to Texas, I have been going through reverse culture shock (which is the difficulty of acclimating to your home culture). After spending a little over a year in Latin America, I assumed the transition back to Houston would be seamless. Over these last couple of months, I feel like I have been living a paradox of contradictory emotions and experiences (sometimes joyful and sometimes frustrating).

I’m a new person living in a place that used to make me feel very comfortable, loved and supported. And, yet, I am struggling in my return as I see old and familiar ways.  While there is a wide array of things that are different (including a new political climate), I wanted to share just three triggers that have made coming home a challenge for me.

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Food
Honestly one of the biggest pastimes I enjoyed as a Houstonian was the huge variety of different foods we can enjoy. Yes, eating is a serious activity here.

One evening, I met up with a group of close friends at a fantastic ramen restaurant. It was really fun catching up with my friends. Then as I stared at all the huge bowls of food spread out over the table, I was taken aback. I have never seen that much food at any social occasion in Latin America before. I ate until I was full which wasn’t very much because the portions were so massive. The waiter even asked if I was unhappy with my choice, and I reassured him that the ramen was really delicious. I just wasn’t used to eating so much food anymore.

Since leaving the States, I shifted from eating a wide variety of foods to having a mostly plant based vegetarian diet. I used to eat three protein-rich meals and have two snacks daily. It is unclear if I really needed to eat all of that food or not. I do remember training for a lot of 10Ks, half marathons, triathlons, and practicing a lot of yoga. Perhaps, all the physical activity required me to eat more often. Or, maybe the frequency of consumption was due to stress or the need to feel emotionally comforted with food.

It’s been a weird experience between being happy to get to enjoy my favorite foods and wondering how much food do I really need to feel satiated.

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Consumerism/ Accumulation of Things
When I moved, all of my possessions were whittled down to two suitcases and a backpack. That basically comes down to the most essential items you can’t live without (2 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs of slacks, 2 dresses, 5 pairs of shoes, 2 jackets, 5 shirts, 2 dresses, a small array of yoga clothes, and some art supplies and my favorite books).

Shopping in Guatemala was not very feasible for me. First off, I didn’t have a car. And, when you do go shopping, the prices for a pair of Levis or a pair of running shoes are just so ridiculously overpriced. So, I saved my shopping for when I came home to the United States. (I used to make fun of the tourists who were always shopping in The Galleria. How the tables have turned.)

I still have a hard time going to the grocery store. If I don’t have a list, I just stare at all the products and produce in this weird “Aww shucks, golly gee, would you look at that?”

I have been home for two months and I still can’t bring myself to go to Target. I’m no longer used to these huge stores filled with so many options, items, and products. There was a time in my life where going to Target brought me joy: I’d grab random stationary, cute things from the $1 bin or geek out on all the beauty products. For whatever reason, this kind of shopping experience no longer brings me joy and such items just take up tons of space.

Again, I’m happy to see my favorite items at Trader Joe’s and also numbed by all the options I have conveniently laid out for me.

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Re-Connecting with Community
I am very grateful for the support of my friends and family back here in Texas, but I feel like I have become much more introverted and oftentimes misunderstood. The American “Nicole” is loud, feisty and opinionated. The Guatemalan “Nicole” is this shy, quiet, and oftentimes pensive person. I had gotten comfortable spending a lot of hours on my own. The pace of life in Guatemala was also slower. In a lot of ways, my time in Latin America feels like a dream. Coming back here, there are times where I feel like nothing has changed. I see the same people worrying about the same problems before I left. Or, I will go to the same cafe and see the same cheerful barista who still remembers how I want my beverage prepared. I have vacillated between wondering if it is comforting or is it disturbing to be back to these places that are familiar and have never changed?

Another aspect about being back in Houston is this constant reminder of things and people I left behind here especially my past relationships that are no longer in existence. I missed my old and quirky neighborhood. Things like getting to ride my bike along Buffalo Bayou park or sharing a good conversation over a flat white in my favorite breakfast spot. Along with being in my old neighborhood, I must accept all that has happened and start to leave it in the past. Right now, it’s hard to ignore those signs and reminders. And, I know I will eventually work through these old experiences.

Ultimately, I am left with a couple of suitcases, a passport filled with stamps, lots of wonderful memories and this new version of myself. Right now, I am still not sure about this new version existing here in the States. I know that no matter where I go I am still here. The experiences, problems, challenges and adventures are all still here. And as I embrace my return, I look forward to re-discovering these new perspectives, acquired lessons, and funny quirks that  I have collected from my time away. I hope to stop being so critical of myself constantly wondering why I haven’t acclimated so smoothly yet. And, I will continue to work towards getting more comfortable with the new me.

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