Monthly Archives: July 2013

I’m Not in Kansas Anymore

Ok, I was never really in Kansas, but you get the idea. I am now officially moved into my apartment in Connecticut, or as moved in as one can be without any furniture or a bed, and I survived the long solo trek from Missouri to New England. Illinois, Indiana, Ohio – three-day hiatus in Columbus to visit a friend from college – and then Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut. I narrowly avoided having my bike fall off the back of my car and found my way through fog, rain, and the summer construction season. I somehow managed to arrive at all my stops despite not having a GPS or a Smartphone (it’s called maps, folks!), but now I’m hit with the clincher – no internet for a week! I’ll have to make due at Starbucks this weekend (I have yet to find the public library, I should probably Mapquest that), pretending like I’m consuming their Tall Medium Roast Coffee (cheapest thing on the menu besides a kids’ drink) while I’m really fasting for Ramadan. $1.86 must be the going rate for Wifi.

I officially feel out of my element, more so than when I moved to France, even back in 2011 when I didn’t know anyone. I am for the first time (more or less) no longer a student, and I don’t have the typical student support network. I can’t go up to random strangers (or I suppose I could, but I won’t) and ask them to direct me to where to buy groceries, set up my internet, buy a shower curtain, or what to do when I am lost. Luckily, I’ve managed all those on my own, once I figured out how to get to AT&T. There’s a nice big shopping street through the center of Danbury (or is it Brookfield?) with everything you could want: a pharmacy, a furniture store (those purchases will be much further down the road), Bed Bath & Beyond, a Starbucks (thank you cheap internet), and a grocery store all on the same stretch. I am very far from having a “walkable” city experience, however, smack in the middle of Suburbia. Thank goodness for my new used car, which luckily survived the trip over with me.

And the grocery store I went to! I had one of those typical culture shock experiences. I’m used to my St. Louis grocery stores or even the Omaha Hyvee – straight, symmetrical aisles that are carefully labeled with plenty of elbow room for turning around. Stew Leonard’s was nothing like your Schnuck’s or your Dierberg’s. Touted as the world’s biggest dairy (I did pick up their store variety milk, orange juice, and peanut butter, just in case it is also cheaper to buy locally), it looks like one gigantic barn chock-full of people. You turn in a labyrinthine pattern following some apparently intuitive layout (I had to walk around the entire store four times in order to find sugar and flour, dodging traffic as I sidestepped between grocery carts). It was a full-blown experience, with noise and smells. I am happy to say that the selection of cheese and bread looks excellent. I immediately bought some New York sharp cheddar, which I have been craving for months. When I stop hemorrhaging money, I might even occasionally treat myself to gruyère and the five thousand other varieties of cheese I saw (it was the biggest selection in America that I have seen by far, they weren’t kidding when they said that they were the “world’s biggest dairy”).

There’s nothing scarier than being in a new place where you don’t know anyone and you feel like you are camping in your too-big-for-one-person apartment. And I don’t even have Game of Thrones to watch in the evening to help me get through this period on my own.

Good thing I’m having my first ever Italian lesson tomorrow and a Meetup indie movie night where I must be the youngest person by ten years.  That, and a refrigerator full of groceries. I think I’ll survive.

 

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Road Trippin’

I read Jack Kerouac’s The Road when I was fifteen. I don’t remember much from that book, with the exception of the infamous trip to Mexico, but I remember the feeling I got of the beat generation: wanderers, jazz lovers, go with the flow, nonconformists. While I have almost nothing in common with beatniks, I have to admit that there is something seductive about the open road. I have a destination in mind and a new life to begin, but I can take my time getting there. I can see places and people. I’ve got sixteen or more hours of alone time along the way.

Capture d’écran 2013-07-09 à 8.25.18 AM

This is my first real road trip. I used to drive several hours home from school, but it was never so far or so long. I’m crossing through six states including the entire length of the state of Pennsylvania. I’m entering a foreign land… I’ve never driven through or visited most of the Northeast United States, except for New York City, which I hope I never have to drive through.

Here’s to a new beginning, and the open road.

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Readjusting

My eyes are super dilated right now. I look like a cat in a dark room and when I step outside, the light is blinding.

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No, I am not having a severe case of reverse culture shock but rather, I just came from the ophthalmologist. But it certainly is an apt metaphor for what life is like now readjusting – moving back from life abroad, moving to another city where I know no one, and entering the corporate world.

For instance, I am now taking an online MBA class. I just had my midterm last night, and I spent the three days preceding that studying terms like SWOT analysis, venture capitalists, and trade deficits. I had to write an essay on the steps of a PERT diagram. My teacher said it was one of the best responses he’s ever read. What is the world coming to? I’m becoming an expert on PERT diagrams!

Suffice it to say that my literary fantasy world of life in Europe is being replaced by a new reality of business, car payments, and health benefit plans.  Gone are the days of studying metaphysics, medieval philosophy, and the history of Western Europe. In short, I am going to need to find my own culture because I am no longer a full-time student.

Welcome to the real world.

For many people, reverse culture shock is extreme. I know people who have spent three years in Africa, who live in South America on a small stipend, who haven’t seen shopping malls for months. I won’t pretend that my transition from living in France to being back in my hometown of Saint Louis has been quite as traumatic. My culture shock is double, though – in one fell swoop, I am officially grown up, with a real world job, real world car payments, and real world problems.

I think I preferred living in France.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved spending the past three weeks with family and friends. I bought a beautiful new used car from my friend’s brother. I had a great conversation about life in South America with a friend over tapas at a Spanish bar while watching Brazil slaughter Spain in the Confederation Cup. I caught up with close friends in a more meaningful way than I had for many months (email can only do so much). And I ate in more restaurants in one weekend than I had for the entire time I was in France.

Readjusting is never easy. It’s taking a new status quo and making it your reality. If I weren’t moving in a week, my life would slowly take up a new normal. If I weren’t (impatiently) waiting for Hedi’s visa to arrive (we’re 26 days into the waiting process), I could be taking more advantage of my newly upgraded life.

Part of me is somewhat depressed: I want to live abroad, I want to learn languages in an immersion setting, and I want to be able to go out with my fiancé on a regular basis.

Part of me is exhilarated: I have new challenges in front of me, new goals, I’ll be living an hour away from New York City and from one of my closest friends, I’ll get to show Hedi my country, and we’ll finally have enough money to (eventually) travel.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

I’ll get over this transition period fairly soon. Right now, though, my eyes hurt.

 

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