Re-entry. /ɹi ˈɛntɹi/ n. A return to the United States after a significant time abroad, in which you delight in your home country’s thriving Brunch culture and question if it’s really wise to leave again.
Re-entry into the United States can be almost as discombobulating as the initial move abroad. You hear talk of “reverse culture shock,” and to an extent it does exist, even coming from a relatively similar country as Spain. It’s less of a total blow, though, and more of a process, a subtle progression. Let’s examine the Five Phases of Re-Entry:
1. Total Confusion
Moments off the airplane and you’re already out of it. People are adeptly speaking a foreign language that you’ve tried and failed to teach for months, called English. Why are the TSA workers patting your crotch? You notice quite the variety of riders on the subway. In Spain there was White Spanish and Hairy Spanish, but in these U.S. cities there appears to be pale, tan, dark, white, black, Chinese, Korean, Mexican, Indian, I’m even hearing some South Africans speak in the far corner. Wait one minute, is it even called the subway? Or is it the metro, or the underground? You’ve gotten so Euro.
2. Unleash the Crazy with American Products
Second lunches and snack-time burritos are now a thing, because you can’t possibly choose between the array of foods that you haven’t seen in nine months. You forgot that Thai was even a cuisine, and to make it up to poor Thai food, you’ll have to order it for an after-dinner digestif. You’ll enter superstores like Target and gaze at pillowcases and brands of gum for hours, and realize that in the time it took you to choose a mark of deodorant, a red-eye could have had you back to Spain.
3. Reverse Culture Shock
Spain falls into the category of Relatively Similar to the U.S. I’m saying they don’t consume dog meat, everyone has Smartphones, and people hit their brakes at red lights. But still, some things will get to you upon re-entry. Why is everyone carrying to-go coffee cups? (And why are they filled with dirt-water?) People are wolfing down Panera bread bowls at tragic tables for one. You’ll actually get ID-ed for your beer, and they’ll stare at your birth date like you faked the digits. Your Toyota Corolla is now the smallest car on the highway, but who cares, because gas in the U.S.—while a toxic and fleeting resource—is a third of the price that it is in Europe. So fuel up!
4. Comment on the Differences
At first your observations are deeply insightful, or at least comment-worthy. It should be brought to everyone’s attention that a glass of mediocre Spanish wine has a 700% markup in the States. And you must know, in Spain we wouldn’t be eating dinner this early. But then you become insufferable. Even your own mother can’t hide her indifference when you inform her that Spanish buses DON’T require exact change—can you believe that?!?—or that you find it so weird that U.S. dollar bills are all one size and color. It’s truly astonishing, until she sweetly brings to your attention, that NO it is NOT.
It’s not weird that countries do things slightly differently. That’s why they’re different countries. What’s weird is that, while you’re spouting off every paltry observation, you’re somehow oblivious to the fact that everyone else is inching away.
5. Become Homesick at Home
All in all, you killed it in Spain. Sure, there were some hard times. But it’s only natural that you had a few tough months during your first year in the real world, because not only did you launch your New Adult Self, but you chose to debut 6,000 miles away. And you’re excited to go back and be that exotic, foreign version of You, this time in the beating metropolis of Barcelona. Who wouldn’t be jealous?
Except that you’re home. You’re waking up in your childhood bed, there’s a blueberry crisp on your counter, you’re back to being your mom’s hiking buddy. 90% of your high school and college friends live within a 20-mile radius.
And you find that, even though you’re at home, you’re already getting homesick in anticipation of your departure. You have two months here, and you know you’ll soon run out of cultural differences to comment on, or go bankrupt from buying heavily marked-up Spanish wine. But my God, you forgot how amazing this place is.
You like to hate on America (lovingly) while you’re gone—our health care is messed up; we have gaping holes in our public transportation; our environmental practices are cringeworthy—but then you come back here.
To a population so relentlessly friendly that you think Americans’ lips are actually semi-bent into permanent smiles.
To the San Francisco Bay Area’s natural beauty, unparalleled in most global corners (because you’ve traveled to some of those corners, and you can vouch).
To movie theaters that play undubbed films.
To cafés where you can sit alone and write all day, without locals questioning why you’re friendless and single.
And you sigh, because although you can’t wait to brag that you live in Barcelona, you already feel the renewed ache of homesickness.