Returning home was easy, but leaving Italy was hard. From the cab ride to the airport, to the tarmac and even during takeoff, I sobbed uncontrollably with my friends. When I sat down with my mom and my family to discuss returning home, it was hard for her to understand why I wasn’t thrilled to be back. I had to explain to her that it wasn’t that I was sad to be home, it was that I was sad to leave Florence. The quote I used to explain this to her was, “You will never be completely at home again. Because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” I wanted her to understand how much I fell in love with the world outside of Rhode Island. The richness of my experience has given me a new outlook to life. I told her that in order to healthily reincorporate I need her to give me a little space and not to smother me with redundant questions – that all of my stories will come in due time. While I think talking about it is healthy, the excessive questions will only cause me to miss it more and yearn to be back in my new second home. I don’t think that my friends and family have fully grasped my reincorporation and learning from this experience. This past week I visited Quinnipiac and everyone just assumed my time abroad was one for partying. No one really cares about the value of my experience and expect me to fully integrate back into my old lifestyle.
There were several challenges that I faced as I got settled in back home. I think my biggest issue was going back to Quinnipiac only two days after being home. I didn’t give myself time to adjust in my most familiar setting, but instead acted as a visitor in the QU community. Tom Wolfe writes, “your hometown hasn’t moved, and your network of family and friends is still intact- but both feel different, almost like a foreign land,”(205). Everyone was taking finals and spending the majority of their time in the library, while I just wandered aimlessly trying to find a way to occupy myself. It was a weird feeling knowing that I have changed so much and everything I left behind remained the exact same. My mom was just too overjoyed to have me in her presence to recognize any real changes in me. I don’t think that my friends and family will be able to sense these for at least another couple weeks or so because they are expected me to effortlessly settle back into my normal life.
I am definitely experiencing reverse culture shock. Asides from obvious adjustments like using American money, driving a car again, and being able to use my cell phone whenever, I was feeling left out, misunderstood and frustration at home. I felt as though everyone had moved on with his or her lives without me and I had to sprint to catch back up. I also found myself constantly saying “you don’t understand” to people when they mocked some of my habits or saw how hard it was for me to become relaxed in my old environment once again. I commonly turn to my ‘study abroad’ group chat with friends that were also in Florence and we constantly text about our shared struggles and sadness about being home. Overall, I am frustrated because I feel “more independent, more travel-savvy, etic, but these qualities are not always recognized by the community,”. In order to have a healthy reincorporation I need for my friends and family to understand how I am feeling and keep an open dialogue about it, which I explained in my letter.
For me to carry my experience forward, I intend on remaining independent. I want to cook, clean and take care of myself – despite my mom’s eagerness to take care of me. I think that it will be a nice treat for my family if I cook dinner a couple nights a week and continue to upkeep the house. Another way to carry my experience forward would be to continue to travel when I get the chance. Studying abroad has given me the amazing opportunity to see a lot of Europe, but also made me realize I have not even seen the United States outside of New England. I want to take trips and see my own country.
In order to carry this experience forward and to ‘divert the stream’ as Slimbach describes it, I need to remain as open-minded as I was during my semester abroad. It is so easy to fall to the peer pressures and common attitudes towards certain things, but I wish to remain open to new friends and experiences at home. I think one of the major issues in my home community is that everyone wants to stick to the status quo and no one dares to be different. The non-judging, easy-going attitude in Europe caused me to fall in love with it and become a better version of myself. Like the quote I have chosen to explain my feelings, I hope to remain open-minded towards all new experiences after reincorporating into my home community.