I have been back in America for over a month now. And you’d think that I’d be over reverse culture shock by now, but it’s simply not true.
It happens at the most unexpected times, in the most unexpected places.
Currently, I am typing this from my favorite coffee shop in Las Cruces, New Mexico. This coffee shop, which despite all the changes around it, is still the same, and somehow still feels a little like home. It still brings me back to those college loving days. But also, there’s just a part of me that feels a little off when I’m back in this old college town.
I drive the streets remembering how I once drove them with my friends, laughing and going to McAllister’s. I walk the sidewalks of my University and remember how I once walked on them thinking about all the boys I liked. I pass by students and can’t believe at how young they look! Did I look that young too? Was my backpack full of that many books as well? Their eyes are full of excitement because THEY’RE IN COLLEGE NOW WHICH IS ALMOST LIKE BEING A GROWN-UP.
I longed to come back here because I loved those days. But, it also feels strange.
I thought I missed this place and the times I had in it, but now that I’m here, I realize that I don’t miss it – I just enjoyed those days. I enjoyed my time in Cruces. I loved my friends and my life and my apartment. I loved having a head full of crushes and trying to decipher their words (note to past self: if a guy asks you out, he OBVIOUSLY likes you). I had fun dreaming about my future in this very same coffee shop.
And when I come back to Cruces, I think I’m going to feel those same feelings — the excitement, vigor, and even love. I’m going to pick up where I left off with my life. I’m going to meet up with all the same friends and we’re going to joke and laugh and it’s going to feel the same.
But, it doesn’t. Because it isn’t.
So much has happened and changed. I’ve met so many other people that nobody here even knows exists.
Before I moved back to America, I was afraid that my life in Korea would feel like a dream. But, I don’t think I should’ve been afraid. The truth is, coming back to America has really just shown me how much time has passed, how much life goes on without you. And on. And on. Most of all, it shows me that my time abroad was real.
That time I jumped off a bridge with strangers into a jellyfish-filled ocean? Real.
That time I sat on the back of a motorbike in Vietnam, winding through mountains, taking pictures of petite villages? Real.
That time I stumbled upon a nearly deserted garden alone in Japan and it took my breath away? Real.
When your heart is truly captured, I think it does something to you. It lights you up, and even though it happened ages ago, it still leaves a little bit of light inside of you saying it was real.
Now, I’m back and out of it and I feel like I’m going through growing pains. Except, instead of my bones hurting, it’s my heart. My heart has loved people my American friends and family have never met. It’s loved new places and experiences and food.
I guess what I’m trying to say is . . . I’ve changed. And I miss living abroad.
But I know that going back to Korea isn’t going to magically make my heart stop hurting. I know that just as I feel a little like the odd woman out here in America, I’d feel the same in Korea. I know that what I truly miss isn’t Korea. It’s just that I enjoyed my time there. It’s just that I can’t ever get it back.
So what should I do except keep walking? Where do I go except forward?
It would be easy to spend my time in America groaning for a time I can’t have, wishing for the good ol’ days. Instead, I’m going to keep living in them.
There are still people I’ve yet to meet and places I’ve yet to visit.
And I can’t wait.