The challenges I have faced since returning home from New Zealand were surprisingly harder than I imagined. The discrepancies between New Zealand and American culture were evident before my flight home even landed. On my flight from Los Angeles to Newark everyone was in a rush to disembark the plane which resulted in pushing, arguments, and yelling. I was suddenly thrusted into an environment completely opposite from my experiences in the past 5 months. In New Zealand everyone was polite and would go out of their way for almost anyone, but in the United States it seems that everyone puts themselves first.
Some of the other challenges I face result from other’s lack of understanding of my host country’s culture. Since I have come back and described my experiences and what was “normal” is in New Zealand there was some backlash. One of the biggest criticisms was the lack of footwear in public places. People close to me, especially my sisters, saw this as disgusting and unsanitary, however it had become commonplace for me during my time in Dunedin. Another challenge I face while reincorporating into my community is driving. In New Zealand they drove on the left side of the road and there was practically no traffic. All of the dashboard controls were switched and all the highways were one lane. Returning to 3-lane highways with bumper to bumper traffic is certainly a major readjustment.
The quote I decided to share in my letter came from Slimbach which stated “home” isn’t just a physical space we inhabit but a lifestyle we construct. It’s a cherished set of values, relationships, places, and rituals that we learn to assemble wherever we are. Just as we had to construct a home in our host culture, we must now learn to reconstruct a new home in our home culture,” (Slimbach, Kindle Locations 3796). I think that this quote accurately describes the process of my return home. None of my friends and family members have ever lived in another country before and it is difficult for them to understand the challenges I am facing. I think that this quote highlighted the process that I am currently going through and also illustrates the results of a successful reincorporation.
My home community has steadily began to accept the growth that I have garnered during my time abroad. When I was first describing this assignment my sister said, “I don’t think you’ve changed at all.” I don’t think she realizes that the growth and learning from this experience isn’t superficial, but rather a deep emotional change. I think that the more time I spend in my community, the more they realize how much I have changed. As I share my ideas and experiences they begin to accept these changes more and more. I think I prefer this gradual discovery and acceptance because it gives myself time to reflect on my experiences and share everything that I have learned.
One of ways I will carry back my “gems” from my study abroad experience is by sharing the different perspectives of my host country. Engaging with the beliefs of my host country while at home will help ensure I don’t lose everything I have gained from my experience. Specifically I think I will take a bigger part in conserving the environment. New Zealand was highly active in preserving and protecting its ecosystem. I think that taking a larger role in environmental awareness at home will help me retain an essential piece of my knowledge from studying abroad.
As Pascal Mercier once said, “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” I feel that this quote accurately describes my feelings after leaving New Zealand. Although I can try to retain the “gems” from my study abroad experience, there will always be a piece of myself left there. My return to New Zealand will be just like my return home to the United States, somewhat familiar but drastically different.