This year we changed locations, weather, languages, currency, latitude, longitude, altitude and time zones on a weekly basis. It seems like the only thing that had not changed in the past year was our wardrobe – we were all very anxious to put on different clothes now that we were home.
We arrived at the house to find a giant welcome-home banner across the front windows and a colorful welcome mat on the front porch. It put a smile on all our faces – we were home! We dumped the backpacks in the corner of the empty living room, inflated the air mattresses, and settled down in our empty house for a wonderful night’s sleep – AT HOME! In the middle of the night I got up to get a drink of water and wandered into the closet. It took a few days to get used to sleeping in the same place for weeks at a time.
Arriving home after this year abroad was not as big a shock as I expected. Back in the mid-1980’s, when I returned from a year of university in England, I experienced two weeks of reverse culture-shock. For example, I couldn’t speak fast enough to stay in a conversation with other Americans; I couldn’t get enough hamburgers and pizza; and I noticed many of the unique American customs such as singing the national anthem before a baseball or football game. This time I did not have any reverse culture-shock. I attribute this to a few factors. First, I have a few more decades of experience now – and fewer things are as shocking as in my past. Second, we visited over 23 countries in our year abroad, so we were never in a single place long enough to pick up other customs enough to create a shock when we returned. And finally, we traveled as a family unit and carried our own “SherrysAbroad family culture” with us around the world and home again. So, overall, very little culture adjustments have been necessary since we returned. Alex told me that the biggest adjustment she has made is to start using the word “bathroom” instead of “toilet” again.
After a year away, we were very anxious to get back into the house. I had been daydreaming of hanging-out in the back yard while sipping a cold beer in the hot tub. Suzanne looked forward to her regular lunches with friends, an assortment of clothes, access to her kitchen, and a clothes washer. Alex dreamed about the time she would spend with her friends. And Patrick looked forward to re-connecting with friends and having his own room again. It felt great to be home, to see our family and friends, and to know that we would not need to stuff everything back into backpacks again.
The first-of-two storage PODs arrived with all our stuff, and work started to reboot our suburban life. I unlocked the POD door and reluctantly began the process of loading the house with stuff. It was not a pleasant exercise. Suzanne and I kept shaking our heads and saying “I can’t believe we have so much stuff.” Our small pile of backpacks in the corner was soon lost in stacks of boxes, bags, and crumpled news paper – it was depressing. All of us also found that our energy quickly depleted, and we could only sustain short spurts of activity before we needed to stop and rest. It took about 6 weeks at home for me to regain the type of stamina that I had when we began our journey. Of course the kids rebounded in a week or two.
A few days after we arrived some friends threw us a welcome home party. It was very generous and we felt very loved. Suzanne and I tried our best to “bounce” and tell entertaining stories of our travels. But most of my stories ended with the phrase “and now I’m so tired”.
After the party we refocused on the list of reboot tasks. SMOG and register my truck. Start garbage, water, electricity, and gas service. Stock the pantry with staples. Fix the water leak in the laundry closet (thanks Dad). Buy a new washer and dryer. Move furniture into the house, fix the stuff that was broken during the move (thanks Dan). Boot up the computer and begin installing a year worth of MS Windows updates (over 100 in all). The list goes on…
While in Costa Rica I logged-on and scheduled AT&T to install phone, internet, and TV. As I write this post it has been about 2 months since the install and Suzanne and I have logged over 20 hours (no exaggeration) talking to scores of AT&T customer service people from all over the world, and the service is still not working right. I don’t know how anyone who has a job could get their service installed. Their customer service reps are sickeningly polite and exceedingly ineffective. When I find a viable alternative, we will change providers as soon as our contract is complete.
For our cell phones, I expected to buy SIM cards for our smartphones, similar to what I did everywhere else in the world. However, in our area the only SIM card providers are T-Mobile and (you guessed it) AT&T. Unfortunately T-Mobile doesn’t support our Samsung Galaxy phone models, so unless I wanted to buy new phones or sign and 2-year contract with Verizon, I was stuck with AT&T – again. As usual the service is poor and prices are high. I know the US is behind the rest of the world on cellular services, but now I really appreciate how bad the US citizens have been treated by cellular phone companies.
I did have some cell phone adventures while abroad. In Greece it took me 2 hours and I had to give 3 copies of my passport and sign 5 pages of contracts printed in Greek to get a SIM card. In Turkey I bought a black-market SIM card for $15 from a guy in the cell phone store. In Chile I bought my SIM card at a cell phone store, then had to add credit at a pharmacy, and then could only get technical help from a third store. In Croatia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, buying a cell phone number was as easy as buying a newspaper.
Suzanne got the kids signed up for school, sports teams, and camps. Alex and Patrick fell into a routine of sleep-overs and video game sessions with friends. We were home in time to celebrate the most American of holidays, the 4th of July. So we walked down to the main street in Danville and watched the all-American small-town parade with friends. Summer break in the suburbs.
We have also started to subjected family and friends to hours of photographs – until they cried “uncle”.