To be honest, I think I got a little cocky after not really experiencing very much culture shock while I was abroad and assumed I would have just as easy of a time readjusting when I got home. But what I’ve learned after being home for about a week is that coming home is a whole new experience entirely. On our last night in Kyrgyzstan, we had dinner with all of the students and faculty from our program. One of the faculty members told us something that I wasn’t able to fully understand until I got home. “It might seem like people don’t care about hearing about your experience,” he said, “but they do. They just literally don’t understand what you are talking about, it’s like you’re speaking a foreign language.” He told us that we might have to hide part of ourselves for a little while, until we found someone else who understood what it was like to live abroad and how it fundamentally changes so many things about you that you sometimes aren’t fully able to understand or articulate. He was right. I got off the plane and couldn’t wait to share everything about my trip with everyone I talked to. The thing was, as I told them my stories, I found myself becoming more and more frustrated. I felt like the people around me weren’t really listening to what I was saying and were just passively letting my stories wash over them. I tried over and over to explain what I’d seen and done and how these things had changed how I saw the world, I just wanted them to get it. But they didn’t. Really though, how could they? It took me a while, but I realized that they were listening; I just wanted them to hear something more than what I was saying. I think I was trying to share more than just stories with people; I was trying to share how these stories had made me feel. I was trying to take all those changes I felt and make other people feel them too, but obviously that’s not how things work. I realized that that faculty member had been right. There were parts of what I had experienced that I was going to have to keep to myself until I met someone else who would understand without me having to explain.
There are countless articles out there that talk about wanderlust and reasons to travel. They all say things that I’ve found to be very true about having experiences that change your life and how great it is to see new places and cultures and meet new people. They also almost always talk about how, once you travel, you want to keep travelling. Most of them relate this urge back to those things I mentioned before, those exciting new experiences. But I think there’s a little more to it than that. I think it comes back to those pieces that people who have traveled have to hide when they get home. Maybe when people go back out into the world they’re not just looking for novelty, but for the familiar as well. Maybe they’re trying to find others who speak their language, people who can read between the lines of their stories and hear what they’re really trying to say.
I miss Kyrgyzstan. I miss the part of myself that I left there and I’m not totally sure I’ll be able to find it again. I’m also extremely happy to be home, mostly because of burritos and the lack of marshrutkas in the public transportation system. I’ve always loved the saying “home is where the heart is,” despite my aversion to clichés. I always think it is a beautiful and comforting concept that your home isn’t dependent on a physical thing, like a house or an apartment, but is where you feel complete. When you travel though, I think it becomes a little more complex. I feel like I’ve left parts of me with people in so many places and I don’t know if it’s possible to feel totally complete in one place anymore. I know I want to keep travelling and I know this means I’ll be leaving parts of myself in places that I might never get to go back to, but I think it’s worth it. It’s extremely hard to travel and not experience some kind of growth. Maybe you give up having one place in the world where you feel like you belong completely, but you also gain this amazing sense of freedom. Whatever pieces you leave behind are replaced by new thoughts, beliefs, and friendships that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life. My time in Kyrgyzstan honestly changed my life, and it changed me. I’m figuring out how to make these changes fit into my life here in the States, but soon I hope I can venture out into the world again, and maybe find people who speak the same language.