Since returning home from the Peace Corps in December 2013, I had just barely wrapped my head around all the new iPhone apps and food choices at my disposal by the time 2014 rolled in.
I’ve also been absent from The Nomadic Beat. So with the first month of 2015 almost to a close, here’s a recap on one year spent re-integrating after returning home from the Peace Corps.
What did that process look like exactly? What was re-integrating into American life and culture like? Read on.
Omg Food, Food, Food!
Somewhere around July, I posted on Facebook “I will never be over burritos.” It was one of my most liked and commented-on posts of the year. “How can you ever get over burritos?” One friend replied. TRUE point, friend. TRUE POINT.
Also, that was July — almost half a year after I returned. Yes, I spent most of my initial days indulging in nostalgic cravings for raspberries, asparagus, burritos, good cheese and beer. And yes, it has tapered a bit, but are burritos old and non-exciting yet? Nope — not a bit.
Toilets are Awesome
I will never take a flush toilet for granted again. Never, ever, ever. That, and running water.
Even though I live in a small studio apartment with a mini fridge and a double hot plate, I know what I could be living in instead (a pink dollhouse with no water and a pit latrine, that’s what!). So I love my place. I appreciate it for those everyday luxuries (yes, luxuries) most of us take for granted.
Trying to Understand Where My Old and New Self Met
I was gone for almost two and a half years in my early to mid-20s; an age when most people try to define their identities as adults. Not teenagers, not college students, but adults.
I didn’t miss out on this development, but it happened abroad. This is pretty significant for two reasons:
First, I felt more aware of it. When I initially returned, I gravitated towards old habits, but they didn’t feel right. I’d go to the same clothing stores I frequented before, and suddenly feel too “old” for them. I’d go to old favorite bars, coffee shops, and restaurants and feel out of place.
I’d look at a menu and quickly identify my usual, but not feel up to it. I was constantly thinking “well, Old Jessie would have had the caprese sandwich, but New Jessie wants a burger with avocado.”
Returning from living abroad forced me to experience all these changes in tastes and lifestyle preferences all at once, rather than gradually. That made me more aware.
Secondly, this meant that I had to reconcile this Old-Jessie-New-Jessie identity crisis. At times, it meant some awkward moments (and outfits), but overall it’s been a fun experience in new discovery.
Annoying Everyone Around Me with “This One Time in Peace Corps” Stories
I know, I know, I know. I talk about Peace Corps and Madagascar waaay too much. I’m probably annoying my friends, co-workers, and boyfriend with all my “this one time in Madagascar…” stories.
I don’t mean to talk about it so much, and I’m not trying to one up anyone when asked “so, what did you do for New Years last year?” It kind of just comes out, like word vomit.
An RPCV friend of mine, Karina, put our side of this well. “For us, it’s just our most recent two years of our lives. Our friends might be talking about this great party they went to last summer, and we are too — they just happened to take place in another country.”
So please be understanding, friends. I don’t want to treat the last two and a half years of my life like it’s either an empty, untalked about void, or an obnoxious conversation piece.
Remembering How to Be a “Real Adult”
It’s weird, but there are some basic life skills I feel like I just simply forgot after two and half years of not having to use them.
For example, it took me a moment to remember how scheduling a dentist appointment and using insurance worked again (since Peace Corps takes care of all of this for us). Banking, renting cars, navigating public transportation — all of this I had to dig back into my mind for.
I’m being totally honest when I say, this time last year, I would have been thrown off by the question “what’s your group number, miss?” if I had attempted to file an insurance claim. W$#!G%# — my what?
Feeling Behind on Life
Pretty quickly after getting back from Peace Corps, in February 2014, I started a new job in Berkeley, California. I was 25 at the time and, quite frankly, just stoked to have more than $200 / month coming in to my bank account.
Then, I met other 24 – 26 year olds in the San Francisco Bay area. They had been working for prestigious companies for years, making great salaries and benefits, and — sometimes — living fairly expensive lifestyles.
Okay, okay, okay — I am at the epicenter of the tech boom, but that’s not an excuse to write off this sentiment. Other volunteers felt behind because they didn’t have so much as a boyfriend, when all their friends were getting married. We didn’t have cars, babies, and our two years of Peace Corps isn’t always looked at as real experience by all employers (psh, their loss!)
Back to the point: my accomplishments as a PCV were pushed in the back of my mind, and I suddenly felt behind in life — especially career wise.
I know it’s not true, but it’s hard not to feel this way. Throughout the year, I’ve had to actively remind myself of what’s truly valuable in life (experiences and happiness, not possessions and titles), that I love my job, and why the fuck should we feel so urgent about getting a job directly after college?
Getting Used to All this New Technology
Technology changes rapidly, so it was the most noticeable difference in American culture circa 2011 versus American culture circa 2014. Otherwise, it was just new trends (which we had been closely watching via Pinterest anyway…)
I came back into a world that predominantly used smartphones. Tons of cafes and shops started using iPads for checking out customers (I’d never seen that!). Online dating had become more socially acceptable and casual, and so, so, so many things had become digitized.
Apps like Uber, Lyft, and Tinder had not been created, but soared in popularity since I left. For about two weeks I had no idea what my friends were talking about when they said “I’m going to call an Uber” or “they met on Tinder.” I still remember leaning over and whispering to a fellow Madagascar RPCV and asking “pssst, what’s Tinder??” Thank goodness for friends, right?
Here’s to 2015!
Reintegration is different for everyone, and I tend to feel less nostalgic for my Peace Corps experience than some of my friends (it was great, but I love my life now too!).
Regardless, for everyone who has spent this past year reintegrating into American life after Peace Corps, I’m sure it’s been a year of reverse culture shock, identity crises, and burrito binging. To all of you, here’s to entering 2015 feeling more at ease in our every day lives than this time last year!
Now, who wants to work off those burrito binges with me? Ugh.