Walking through the impossibly crowded streets of Ha Noi, I wanted to stop to appreciate the moment. The fact that I was able to blend in effortlessly while avoiding motorbikes and other human beings was nothing short of a modern miracle. I trekked through treacherous terrain in northern Thailand, scoffing at the sight of a spider the size of my palm, brushing its memory out of my mind as I drifted to sleep. I learned to use bathrooms I would have considered intolerable before. I learned that my spicy food was not spicy enough. I experienced all of the stereotypical changes one might expect from such a foreign journey.
Growing up in a small (emphasis, small) community in central Illinois, I never imagined I’d have the courage to say screw it and move to Asia for 15 months. I did what many consider to be a standard gap year; I taught English in South Korea, spent every penny I earned visiting Hong Kong, Japan, and China during my contract, then stuffed my belongings into a backpack and set off for southeast Asia.
And it was, up to this point, the most satisfying time of my life. My travel mates and I wandered aimlessly with no particular destination in mind. If we didn’t feel like staying in Cambodia for the week, we would visit Laos instead. Our lives had no schedule, no course of action, no deadline to meet. We were existing in a simple form. Sleeping, eating, meeting new people, perhaps putting in the effort to swim at a white sand beach if the day permitted. Who wouldn’t want to do this forever?
That time quickly came and went. My time in Asia was up. I was to return home to the friends and family I left behind and as you might expect, the feeling was surreal. Life had gone on much the same, with or without me there. Yet the change I experienced was near inexplicable. People would ask how it was. “Amazing.” I couldn’t find the words to adequately sum it all up.
I traveled and lived abroad for over a year, trying things that many people might not ever experience for themselves. But now my thoughts have shifted to my career at home in the states. At the time of returning, I was quickly approaching 24 with sparse and dizzying experience on my resume. I had the desire to start a career in my field, make a decent salary, and finally provide for myself. My parents were too kind to kick me out, but I knew it was time.
So this is what they don’t tell you about your time abroad and what it’s really like coming back. Yes, you know the time abroad will inevitably change you. Yes, you know you will likely deal with some degree of reverse culture shock upon returning. But is it supposed to take so damn long?
I’ve been living at home for over two years and am just now feeling as if I belong once again. Do I still have to fight the urge to book a one-way ticket and throw caution to the wind? Of course. Am I starting to feel content with the life I have at home, the career path I’ve set out upon, and the satisfaction of a few trips here and there?
Given an adequate amount of time, you’ll find your own place wherever you call home as well.
If you have the career you’ve always wanted with a desire to travel and not spend all of your hard earned money, check out DIWYY’s great article about doing just that.