Hola! Hello! Konichiwa! Ni hao! Halo!
I’m back home after a summer of tri-continental travels in Spain, the United States, Japan, Taiwan, and Indonesia. If I hadn’t just experienced these unique places, I might still be in disbelief that I actually spent my summer making memories in all those countries but it’s true. I have wished for such an itinerary my whole life and here I am on the end side of it, safe and sound, with loads to mentally digest and share. I am a very lucky woman. Now that I’m done traveling for a little while, it’s my plan to dive into the intricacies of what I observed on this blog. Of course I’d also love to dive in with you over coffee or a glass of wine together and hear about your summer adventures too!
Today, I’m going to talk about reentry to the USA and how it’s been going for me this time around. This was my sixth summer working in Japan and my second consecutive summer traveling to both Europe and Asia in one summer. I’ve experienced several reentries to the USA as an adult and each one has been different, and yet has the same threads of consistency. Here are some of them:
Typically I have a very defensive attitude about reentry in to the USA. This is largely manifested by my extreme gratitude for the hospitality and patience that people abroad consistently show me as a foreigner in their nation. In contrast to the USA, I’ve seen customs and immigration officers and TSA agents yelling loudly at confused people who just want to get through the airport without making a scene and whose English proficiency isn’t strong. More often than not, the agents will be irritated in general with their lack of comprehension and straight up rude to people. Oh hell no. My inner Mama Bear comes out on behalf of these people, who have changed roles with me in the time and space of 10 hours at 35,000 feet. I was on their turf, and now they are now on my turf. I feel that its my job to protect them as they protected and advocated for me for several months and allowed me to live and exist in their culture. How could I not try to help? I try to assist them as much as possible and advocate for them.
In contrast, I also offer an economy of words and basic politeness to mean airport security agents. I am tersely compliant at best. I too don’t want to cause a scene and I know that these people need information from me, so I try to give it to them straight and easy. It dovetails nicely with my campaign to meet them where they are with their own politeness which can be quite variable.
One especially irritating interaction this time was at immigration where I was asked the following series of questions:
Agent: “Where have you been?” (flying back from Japan to the USA)
Me: “Japan, Taiwan, and Indonesia” (I don’t grant these folks full sentences because there are lots of other people in line and because a short question deserves a short answer.)
Agent: “Was it for business or pleasure?”
Me: “Business and pleasure.”
Agent: “Where did you work in Asia?”
Me: “International University of Japan.”
Agent: “That’s a long name.”
Agent: “Here you go [hands me my passport and customs card]. Go ahead.”
How. Else. Could I have answered that question? Guh. We Americans say some really stupid shit when we are feeling uneasy. For real. Onward.
Disdain for my beloved home state
As I said, this bad attitude lasts for a few hours typically. Not even this sign could cheer me up at PDX. I said under my breath when I saw this: “No, I don’t” and couldn’t understand who I had become. I had temporarily forgotten again how sleep deprivation and reverse culture shock can make me feel like the world is ending. After a real cup of coffee at Stumptown, a few hours of walking around and a cheeseburger at Burgerville, I began to reacclimatize.
I’m a fiercely proud sixth generation native Oregonian. I have mad love for my home state and when I saw this sign, all I could think in my post-landing rage haze was: “Oregon. Get over yourself. No one in Asia or Europe knows where you are. I constantly have to explain where I’m from, with hand gestures for context: ‘It’s above California’. Why do we market this place to be so great? How did we get so much money flooding into this state? It’s not what it used to be. And that’s great and crappy. It’s freezing here. I love it, but damn people, get out into the world and get woke that you’re not the only great place in the world. Some other places even don’t have 145 days of rain.”
In the case of coming back from Japan to the USA, I’m highly irritated that I can instantaneously hear other conversations and external musings. Oh my God, the banal shit that people say. I liked it so much better when I couldn’t put other people’s words together in my brain for comprehension. Can we all just make with white noise chatter? These are my hopes and they never come true. I end up learning way more about strangers than I ever wanted to know just by using a public restroom in the United States. Also our restroom stalls are huge. Why are they so huge compared to Asia?
I could go on and another time I will. But this post is about about my untouchable feeling of confidence in my post-reentry state into the USA this time around.
Arriving Back Home
I arrived back in country on a Saturday and my beloved friend Kimmy picked me up from the airport. I’d like to credit her with making me feel so welcomed home (remember: this is from the same brain that was just cursing being home a few hours prior at PDX). This reunion is usually reserved for my mom, but she was on her own travel journey, so Kimmy got the job. She even brought me flowers! Swoon! She helped me haul all of my three suitcases (note to self: pack way less next time; for real.), drove me and my stuff home, and brought me groceries, including homemade Spanish tortilla. Full circle moment for the summer.
I had the rest of that Saturday afternoon and Sunday to rest and just be after three consecutive days of flying: Denpasar > Taiwan > Tokyo > Portland > Eugene. And that’s where it all started. My inner critic started in on me:
Inner critic: “HEY YOU. YOU HAVE ONE DAY TO UNPACK YOUR LIFE BEFORE YOU START WORK. YOU’D BETTER DO IT ALL TODAY AT WHATEVER COST, YOU LAZY WOMAN. YOU CAN’T JUST BE GONE THE WHOLE SUMMER AND NOT UNPACK. GET TO WORK AND GET BACK TO REALITY. PARTY IS OVER.”
My highest self: “No.
Inner critic: “But…”
My highest self: “I’m gonna unpack as I feel like it. That’s all I can do right now. In fact, I might not unpack at all today. I’m going to listen into my body and just to do the next right thing.”
Inner critic: “Yeah, well, your house will be messy and cluttered.”
My highest self: “Thanks for your concern. I accept that as a possible consequence.”
On and on it has gone like this since I came home a week and a half ago. Whenever the inner critic comes in for the beat down to regulate, terrorize, and motivate, my highest self refuses to engage. She takes away the inner critic power by just saying no. That shitty voice has had so little power over me since I’ve been back. It’s a beautiful thing. I didn’t anticipate this, but it has been noticeably and radically different. And it’s not just for house things. This wisdom has been showing up and protecting me in other facets of my life too.
My highest self is showing up via somatic wisdom right now. This is because I’m choosing to do whatever seems like the next right thing. For example, my body told me I was tired this evening, but my mind wanted to go to dance class with my ladies for an hour. We were truly at a crossroads and it was getting close to leaving time. I know that I will never regret going to dance, but maybe, just maybe I should stay home and rest? So I did what Glennon Doyle recommends doing: I flipped a coin. Heads was dance, tails was staying home. I tossed the coin and let my highest body self call it in the air: “DANCE!”
I checked in with highest self: “So we said dance and the weather is warm so we’re going to bike there… is that all right?” And she said: “Of course. But take it easy. No rushing on the bike. If you’re late, be late. But don’t put that rushing pressure on me. Enjoy the ride. And take it easy at the beginning of class. Go easy on me.” I did everything she told me and I was so happy that I went and danced and biked and saw my people. No regrets. It feels right and good in the guts.
My highest self has also been shielding me from stressful situations at work. There is a lot of change going on and while that’s exciting, it creates a ripple effect of stress on everyone. So whenever I feel my brain trying to make plans to mitigate that stress ripple by making me stay late at work or make me feel bad for not understanding more, I remember: “You’re doing your best. This is all new and hard for everyone. Be patient and you’ll understand it all in time. You don’t have to stay late and strain yourself to understand. It will all come into place in its own time.”
Damn. Where has this wisdom been all my life? Welcome, wisdom! Stay as long as you’d like. You can live here for free.
The same body wisdom has applied to jet lag this time around. Oh jet lag. It can be so punishing and challenging. It certain has been that way for me in the past and the same was true this summer, changing so many time zones east and west between Europe- USA – Asia. And oh how I would fight jet lag in the past. I would bully myself into being awake when I was delirious and dizzy with fatigue. I forced myself to stay up according to other people’s wisdom that worked for them. This time, I decided I was going to just roll with it. I took two naps the first two days at home because I really needed them.
Here’s a really miraculous part: I slept for 8 or more hours every night for the first week coming back from Asia. I don’t understand how this is possible. It’s unprecedented for me. Perhaps I was so exhausted that my body wisdom just took over. And I was a bit loopy; I wasn’t at my sharpest mentally. But I fell into the circadian rhythms of sleep instantly. Was this because I went with the flow and listened to my body’s wisdom? Long days of meetings? Luck? Exercise? A combination of all of this? Who knows. What I do know is that I made a conscious choice not to fight or resist what my body needed and this time, it responded favorably.
Last night, I did force myself beyond what my body wisdom was telling me to do and finished unpacking from the summer. After being home for 9 days, it was time. It made me a little sad to unpack too; it was an act of finality on a great summer of travel. But instead of shaming myself into action, I said: “You really value waking up in the morning and having a tidy house and organized closets. Just stay up a little while longer and finish this task. We can catch up with some of your favorite YouTubers while you do this. But let’s get this done for us. It’s going to be great. ”
I think the experience of being in foreign countries requires a lot of self-compassion. Throughout the summer, I had to communicate in seven different languages, pay for things in five different currencies, and do my best to learn thousands of countless cultural idiosyncrasies. I could not get by without the help of others as I might be able to do in the USA. I had to be humble and rely on the kindness of others for basic tasks such as helping me read labels on bottles to know if I was buying the right kind of vinegar and also for rides to the grocery store to buy said vinegar. This reliance on others, having to solve problems creatively, and getting by with what resources I had on hand helped me realize that at home, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to “do it all” and be perfect and accurate in the process.
This has been an unexpected gift from my travels: the gift of giving fewer fucks. The gift of giving myself much more credit for minor and major tasks. The gift of compassion when my expectations (which are often coffee-fueled to do lists) don’t actualize in reality. The perspective that travel has given me has made me feel bulletproof to criticism, most importantly the kind that is dished out from my own inner critic.
What a huge gift. I accept and exercise it gratefully.
Here’s how I know I’m ready for my next trip: right before I went to sleep on my first night back sleeping in my bed, I was checking flights and dreaming about when and where I could travel to next.
Forward and onward!