I’ve been back home almost a week now, and I have to say that the process of re-entry into my life in Portland, Oregon, US of A has been full of unexpected surprises and unlooked-for realizations. Allow me to go off on numerous tangents for a few moments, if you will…
When I set out to embark on this trip, all of my thoughts were focused 100% on the preparation; saving the money, the vacation time, the airline miles, the coordination of keeping my bills paid and my dog happy and arriving at the same time as my brother’s family, not to mention managing the cobweb levels in my house to a sub-haunted level. Also, there was the matter of finding the right place, the right school, the right situation, to make the experience a non-sucky one. All in all, I have to say that I’m quite happy with all my choices and preparations; I did one bang-up job, if I do say so myself. I am good at organizing and managing chaos, after all.
Then, during my three months, I was focused 100% on making the most of my time there; learning as much Portuguese as my brain could handle (which was less than I hoped), and immersing myself in as much culture, activity, and life as I could handle (and afford). I’d give myself an 84% on that one. I think I could have done more, learned more, if I’d spent less time hanging out in my room hiding from the sun in the last few weeks, but am still rocking an amazing tan, and never turned down an opportunity to go do stuff, and have some truly amazing and treasured memories (some of which were documented in video!) as well as some great new friends.
But with the prospect of going home in front of me, I was only focused on getting in the last few times out on the beach, having that last tapioca, that last tall glass of caldo, my last classes in Capoeira and with my MMA gym, the last times with my friends, the last bit of shopping for gifts and cachaca. I thought about how happy I was to be going home, and how I missed my house and my friends and my dog and my routines. But I never thought about how being gone for three months in a foreign country with a foreign language would impact me when I did return. And to my surprise, amazement and (slight) consternation, I find that the culture shock of coming home quite outstripped the culture shock of living in Brazil for three months.
The first thing I experienced was having to intentionally remove the mental blocks I had apparently placed on my ‘You are permitted to speak English all the time’ neural pathways. Odd, since I did speak English at times, quite a bit occasionally; but I always felt guilty about it looking back, as if I was robbing myself of an opportunity to get just a little bit more fluent. Now, that excuse was gone, but the mental block was still there. It felt weird, allowing myself to speak English. I miss speaking Portuguese. I find myself wanting to go to all the Brazilian stuff I can, just for an opportunity to continue speaking it.
The next thing I noticed is how all of my prior habits, routines, and proclivities were, if not gone, then certainly greatly weakened. It’s as if I hit a reset button on my life, and I could pick and choose which ideas, habits and propensities I wished to take up again, and which I decided to toss in the trash, with not a single emotional thread (or very few) to bias my decisions. And while that has been a truly awesome unlooked for blessing, it also caught me off guard, because I did not see it coming AT ALL. It’s like getting hit upside the head with a lucky stick. It still smarts! Kinda like this:
It’s also acted like oxygen on the fires of my love of travel. You’d think that after three months I’d be all like “Dayum that was a long ass trip and I am stayin’ HOME for a while!!”, but I’m already looking forward to my next trip. Most likely I’ll be returning to Amsterdam and London in May again.
I feel like there’s a ‘lastly’ here as well, but I’m not sure what it is. Like I should be able to sum up my trip in a pithy sentence, like many of my coworkers and friends seem to hope I will when they ask me ‘how was your trip?’, but I’m not sure I can; nor do I think I’d want to. There was a lot happening there. I learned a lot. I learned a lot about teaching, about myself, about my values and how they affect me. I thought about language and culture and the impacts they have on each other, and how they can affect the interaction between other cultures. I thought about how important art is to a community, and realized how proud I am of mine.
If I were to come up with a ‘lastly’, it would be this: I now have offers of a place to hang my hat for a few days in five different countries. That’s something special, and is always in the back of my mind. And it means I need to find a better way to generate a metric fuck ton of airline miles.