Once we got in the car at Dulles, I was finally able to breathe … sort of.

I wistfully looked out the window as trees whizzed by, comforted to be in the car with my parents, but not sure of anything else.

What happens now? Where do I go? What do I do?

“Your first meal back home! What do you want?” Mom asked me, rubbing my arm.

I quickly did a rundown in my head of the food I ate while traveling and the food I missed most — chips and salsa.

“Mexican,” I moaned. “I miss Mexican.”

We crept along in the late afternoon rush hour traffic on the Washington Beltway for more than an hour before we finally got off the highway and back into familiar turf.

Rockville, Maryland. Was this home?

And then, Chipotle.

I ordered my favorite dish — chicken fajita bowl, and chips and salsa and sat with it in front of me. I put a fork full of food into my mouth.

It tasted awful. I don’t remember Chipotle being awful, but it was.

Together, Mom, Dad and I sat at the table in the quick service restaurant talking.

But, after a few minutes, I was exhausted. Words didn’t want to come out. I just wanted to not talk. To not do anything.

We drove home, the same familiar streets I had grown up driving, but that afternoon, they were different. It was as if I was looking at those roads for the first time.

Oh god, I don’t want to be here.

And then the second wave of panic in a few hours hit me.

What was I going to do?

The only thing I knew I had to do that evening was take my car and drive to my friend, Megan’s, house. She had been fostering my two cats since February and I owed the little pets a visit.

I grabbed my keys and got into the car.

And froze.

Instantly, I thought back to the last time I had been behind the wheel, navigating the rough and tumble back roads of Romania. And now, there I was, back in Maryland, and suddenly nervous to pull out of my driveway.

I pushed aside the images of horse-drawn carts, children and dogs wandering the streets next to their little huts, and pulled out onto my road.

There is something to be said about the comfort of family and friends. When I was with my parents that day, they helped wash away my anxiety. When I was with Megan that evening, again, I felt better. But it was the other times, when I was alone, I would find myself flustered. Not sure of anything, uneasy … longing to be back on the road. Longing for just one more moment of my former life as a traveler.

For the next few days, I walked around like a newborn. My eyes grew wide and my heart pounded with every “new” experience I had — walking into Target, browsing the racks at the shopping mall, getting gas from a gas station.

It was different for me. I quickly would get overwhelmed and ask to leave places that once had been so easy, so mindless to be in.

The first few days were hard … but they became even harder as I slowly reacclimated to life in Amerca.

8 comments

  1. I lived in Ecuador for 1 1/2 years a while back and must say that re-entry to the US was incredibly difficult for so many reasons, one of which was the fast pace of life here. I also missed all the people I’d gotten close to over there.

    My best advice is to read up on reverse culture shock and be prepared for the various stages you will most likely be going through. Also, keep in touch with the people you got close to when you were on the road. Keeping those friendships and memories alive can make a huge difference.

    Good luck!

    Like

    1. Lisa, you are so right. In most hardest times of getting back into American culture, I reached out to my friends I had met in my travels. They helped me work through everything, reminded me of what I had done in my time outside of America and helped keep me sane. Very good advice!

      Like

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