I landed at JFK the day after Christmas. Speaking English with the immigration officer I rattled my list of 9 countries I’de been in in the past four months, and was surprised by the lack of reaction. (For those keeping score, Canada, Morocco, Senegal, Portugal, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Russia, USA.) Perhaps the Government shutdown had something to do with his lassie-fair attitude, or perhaps this backpack laden white maiden is non-threatening. At JFK the domestic flights require passengers to exit the airport, recheck luggage and go through another TSA checkpoint.
It being the day after Christmas, lines were long, but I was enjoying hearing so much English, but I was also so aware of so much Spanish, and French, and Russian, and Arabic. I felt invisible for the first time in months, but not because I looked like everyone else, but because no one looked like anyone else. The US is truly unique in that regard, and that diversity was something I knew I should value, but I haden’t made that valuation myself.
I spent a week readjusting to the cold in Upstate New York, where I grew up. After months of having no person recognize, or know me, this felt like the complete opposite. I was checking out at the local Co-op and got asked if I had a membership, then the cashier looked up, and said, “Oh never mind, your dad does. its R-O-M-E-Y, right?” I knew my way around town, and felt comfortable making small talk with people. I saw family and friends and snow and trees I knew the names of.
It was nice being back, but I still didn’t have a satisfactory answer to “How was it?” My cousin just come back from a study abroad program as well, and we discussed how to give people the sound bites they want to hear, while still being honest. Unfortunately, no one will ever fully be able to understand that experience, even those on it. I will continue processing my time in Senegal forever, it will continue to shape how I see the world.
Being back in Washington, moving in to my house, seeing my friends, and the things I’d been homesick for the whole time, I realized how going back was not going to be easy. In some ways reverse culture shock got me worse than actual culture shock, and thats not a bad thing. I’m noticing the little things I love about being back, and noticing the little things that really bother me. I feel like an outsider in my home, but it feels good to be back. In my last post I listed the little things I’de miss about Senegal, and here is a mirrored list to that. Things that I’m noticing about being back that I would never have seen before. Its abridged of course, and I’ll continually be noticing anew and I’ll try to keep my eyes open for as long as possible.
- The feeling of being rushed. I don’t think I ever felt like I had to run somewhere, to be somewhere at a specific time on the dot at all my whole time away. I noticed that this morning while I rushed out the door and forgot my coffee in order to catch the bus. I wanted to walk in the leisurely pace I had grown to enjoy walking home from school in Dakar.
- Colors and lack there of. Looking across the main pathway of my campus I see a sea of black, and grey, and brown. Some people wear muted colors, and a single yellow hat sticks out like the sun. I thought my wardrobe was different, but coming back to my closet I realize I too fall into the colorless palate of the PNW winter. And n a similar vein…
- Bellingham is really fricking white. This was something I knew inherently, but after being the other for a while, its more pronounced when I never am. Its something I’ve never had to think about, because the institutions I’m apart of never take that into account. After reading L’Aventure Ambigue, and writing my concentration I’m taking time to examine the things I don;t know, and the ways I haven’t been seeing the world.
- Flavors. Theres no denying, the cooking here has nothing on the full flavor hold nothing back, kick you in the face with love meals of Senegal.
- Quiet. I love the quiet of the woods, of my breath when I run seeing no one, no car horns, or highway traffic. On the flip side, it’s odd to get on a bus full of people and have that same silence. When did we stop talking to each other and become consumed in our rectangular world?
- Vegan food. Don’t @ me, but I’m really excited about eating a mostly plant based diet, and being in a place where thats incredibly accessible. Tofu, mmm so good. Fresh veggies OMG, if you are what you eat I’ve become salad.
- My language, sometimes its great, and I speak English real well, but I get really caught up sometimes. I notice the ways we say things and how odd they are and then I catch myself stumbling over words and phrasing things differently. We’re all speaking a foreign language to someone.
Some days feel natural, more and more I am caught up in the grind of school and I’ve stopped comparing things directly to Senegal, but I certainly did not come back to the same Bellingham, and more certainly did not come back the same Sage.
So here’s to my study abroad experience, here’s to adventures ahead, and here’s to Always Beautiful Tomorrows.