I would say the biggest challenge during reintegration has been the pace of life. This has been furthered by the fact that my internship started three days after returning home, which I will go into further detail later. Slimbach’s quote puts it perfectly, “Compared to life abroad, the pace can seem oppressive, the people wasteful, the food tasteless, the culture colorless. (Slimbach 205) I was able to escape from the norm for over five months, the society that I spent the entirety of my life. I constantly opened all my senses for five months in an effort to learn and build understanding of the unique culture of Barcelona. There were five different types of garbage/recycling on every block, delicious food everywhere, and passionate individuals, especially regarding football.
Another challenge has been trying to share my experience with others. In chapter 8, Slimbach notes this can be quite the challenge for a variety of reasons. I would love to take over the discussion and drone on about cultural differences and everything I have learned abroad, yet I have not done so except for with well-traveled individuals. In a group setting I tend just to share a few “cool” highlights from my trip like eating Kangaroo (the best meat I have ever had) or snowboarding in the Pyrenees. I hope to have more meaningful conversations in the future, and I would love to speak with potential study abroad students.
I shared my letter with my mom before leaving for Barcelona, and shared the Reincorporation letter I wrote on the plane home with my mom upon return. The quote I chose was, “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries” by Aldous Huxley. I shared this quote because it relates to stereotyping, something people, including members of my family, do far too often. The theory of stereotyping always mind boggled me. Yet, I learned while studying abroad that it is childish to attempt to put labels on an entire country, however certain characteristics can be shared by the majority of a country or region. Love for football being a very blatant characteristic of almost every country in Europe. My mom was not expecting another letter, but promised that we would talk deeper about my experience, particularly with members of my well-traveled extended family.
One aspect of Spanish culture, and virtually everywhere I traveled, is the emphasis and time spent eating. I used to judge waiting service almost solely based on speed, but now being back in the US, this is no longer a factor when deciding how much to tip a waiter. Spending between one and two hours eating can allow individuals to discuss personal problems, recent successes, the world at large, or any number of meaningful topics. In the US, everyone has their phone on the table and is waiting for food while talking. Conversely, from my abroad experience, everyone is talking while waiting for their food. Everyone is seemingly “too busy”, some by working 9-7 jobs or others by needing to watch Keeping up with the Kardashians.
Quote that describes my current feelings:
Three days after returning home, I started my summer internship with the Hartford Insurance Group in Hartford, CT. I was grateful to have a three day orientation before actually beginning assignments. I had a long drive the first day when nerves built and a bit of a 21 year old mid-life crisis occurred. I started an internship in corporate America, fulfilling the only stereotype that foreigners collectively share about Americans: We live to work, rather than work to live. I never saw myself working a 9-5 growing up as both parents often resented their professions. After studying abroad and seeing how slow, and enjoyable, life can be, I was a bit rattled when starting my job. I try to be as honest as I can with everyone around me, so in the middle of my second week when discussing goals, I voiced how I want to create a meaningful and fulfilling career. I am lucky to say I am graced with an assignment manager that has talked me through this conflict at great length already. She said, “Colin, I never want you to stop saying what do I want to be when I grow up.” I really appreciated this and upon reflection, I think it would be enormously beneficial to follow my manager’s words. I will never settle into a job unless it is something I am enjoying that is meaningful for me and others.