My return back to the states was a grueling 18 hour trek consisting of a two large suitcases, a handful of crumpled plane tickets, a red-eye bus ride, and 3 airports, and 2 flights. I guess that’s why they say you have to go through fire and hell before the skies clear. I wanted to be done and get home more than ever that day, (December 21st, a day I won’t soon forget). Although that evening before I left, all my bags packed and my heart set on a different continent, I drew myself back to the place I had come to call home one last time. It was a surreal sendoff; Christmas music serenaded our last dinner together at the residencia and Rosa was as bittersweet as we all were too. Many of closest friends had already departed and the rest were due to leave the next day. I however, was left in no man’s land leaving at 12AM for a bus to Madrid to catch a flight. It was quite fitting to leave that way, by myself … betwixt and between as I arrived. And before I left I hit the bar one last time and along with friends we picked a few lines from my journal and reminisced of our semester. At that time, I truly felt all the connections I had come so far to make were painfully being severed. Although deep down I knew I wouldn’t ever forget those friends and experiences I had been through. The exhausting journey home abruptly brought the roller coaster to a halt. I stepped forward of the plane in Boston at 4:45pm on Wednesday, I was finally back. My Rite of Passage had just one more step; Reincorporation.
There were many open arms and welcomes waiting for me. As Slimbach warns this can be deceiving because as you attempt to explain all the crazy changes you’ve undergone, a funny thing happens. You realize it’s nearly impossible to put all the experiences of your journey with words. Slimbach speaks volumes on the process of returning back to reality in this passage,
“Returning home is supposed to signal a welcomed end to the force of life ‘in the field’. Home is where familiarity dominates, whether it’s the people, the language, the foods, or the routines of everyday life. It’s where we don’t have to think before we act, where we don’t have to struggle to ‘adjust’. That’s the theory, anyway. And the theory plays lout quite well for many (maybe most) sojourners” (Slimbach, 203).
Nobody can quite connect to you like your communitas and they are away back in their own communities too. I felt this bizarre feeling plague me; I had so much to tell my family and friends, but found it mind-numbing to explain what I had gone through in a profound way. As the days have passed I am only now able to form so well ordered thoughts about what happened.
A part of the reincorporation rite alludes to being acknowledged by peers on one’s return home. That is easy enough, everybody wants to know how it went and discussions with your reacquainted friends and family work to show off what you’ve done and accomplished. Furthermore, giving my Reincorporation Letter to my Mom was a good start to me getting used to back to being home. Although there are so many things to consider again. Jobs, money, friends you haven’t seen in awhile, TV shows you missed, next school semester… But what’s more paramount to the process of Reincorporation I realized was taking that big step to rejoin with your previous American identity. You know… the one you basically abandoned upon entering the foreign culture months ago. Yeah, that one. Slimbach again mentions that this step of rejoining your home culture can sometimes be more difficult than leaving,
“Coming home can actually take as much getting used to as going abroad ever did, and maybe more. Whereas we anticipate having to adapt ourselves to differences abroad, we don’t expect the same as we set foot back on native soil” (Slimbach, 204).
There are so many things that are different in the culture you learned about and now that you’re back you are questioning the differences, maybe even finding day to day life boring. Well something that stood out to me upon reading the rites of reincorporation chapter was the urge to not ‘close the chapter’ but instead use it as a platform for transformative possibilities. Slimbach relates this to Joseph Campbell’s protagonist in his 1968 novel, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, “[To] Come back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man” (Slimbach 203). My personal process of merging back with my American identity went relatively unperturbed, somehow. I still have an urge to go sit at the café and watch the people pass by for a couple hours, but that is replaced by the rediscovered ability to cook my own breakfast and watch my long-missed morning basketball highlights once again. Replacing my abroad habits with my old habits is doing a fair job of helping me forget about missing Sevilla. Nevertheless, I am not just forgoing all my cherished memories. I am beginning to put them to good work. Getting back to work since I returned, at CVS I’ve adapted my style slow down what I’m doing instead of working at a lightning pace; it’s something I observed in Spain. Now I’m not sure how much my boss likes this, but at least I feel less stress on myself!
I guess all said and done I’m aiming (note that I am still in the process of reincorporation, it’s only been 8 days since my return), for that elusive ‘integrative returnee’ style Slimbach refers to as a form of a reincorporating sojourner. It’s a style Slimbach describes as,
“[Having the] greatest potential for personal change […] [and] When asked the inevitable question, ‘How was your trip?’ their reply moves the conversation beyond a mere travelogue of what they saw and heard and felt. They also speak of new world understandings and self-discoveries- and how both are being synthesized into a revised identity and lifestyle” (Slimbach, 211).
So far, I can see all the gears turning inside my self as the two, new and old identities join together, but still, putting all that into words is something mighty tough. Either way I’m constantly questioning myself and how I could be approaching things as I learn to live at ‘home’ again. In my final analysis, I can say my final step is something I could pondering for long after my return. At the least for now I can say my journey as a sojourner in the culture of Spain sparked something in me that has caused me to have a whole new approach to life. I can’t quite explain this but I know I understand how life is lived over there and somehow, I am trying to apply that to living back in the states. Perhaps I have more journeys ahead of me before I come to see everything in completion… but for now I am content with being back home amongst my friends and family, enjoying the familiarity and old habits I love so much. All along underneath I can still feel my subconscious thinking in a Spanish logarithm it created months ago.
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning (Stylus Publishing, LLC., 2010).