The most difficult type question I have been asked since arriving home is some form of “How was it?” I found myself without a good response. I eventually started using the standard response one would use when returning from a week-long vacation – “Great!”. This just wasn’t good enough – I needed to come up with something better than “Great”.
Truthfully when I first returned home I did not feel great. I was very tired. I was dealing with the emotions that come with achieving a major life-goal, and the somewhat counter-intuitive feeling of loss that is left when such a big focus is behind me. At first I was not excited by the upcoming suburban reboot and job search (I have become more excited about my job search since then). How can one simple response get across that so much happened during our year abroad, some of it wonderful, some of it not so good, and some of it mundane. You know – kind of like regular life.
I discussed this problem with a couple of friends since returning, and I think I have landed on the phrase “epic adventure“. But I have to say it with a flat, matter-of-fact tone of voice or it just sounds silly. Then I let them know that epic means that this tale is not simple, and I can spin it for a VERY LONG TIME, so be careful what questions you ask. And adventure means that the story is wonderful, fantastic, unusual, mundane, scary, dangerous, educational, emotional, frustrating, and possibly fictional.
Then I give examples of some of the wonderful things we experienced such as: walking on a glacier, attending the Olympics, hiking in the Alps, exploring the ruins of Ephasis and the Roman Cistern in Istanbul, hearing lions roar outside our tents in the Serengeti, snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, jet boating in New Zealand, hiking mountains in Patagonia, watching Machu Picchu light up at sunrise, and much, much more.
Then I go into some of the challenges we overcame. For example, the Indian visa process we were subjected to while there were riots in Athens.
The armed robbery at our resort that scared us so much and made us feel very vulnerable in Zanzibar. Or our cursed camper experience in New Zealand. Or when we had our passports and boots stolen in Argentina. Then I talk a little about how we managed to avoid the flu season by more or less following summer around the world, but not surprisingly each of us did have some types of illness while abroad. Patrick visited a doctor in Switzerland to deal with an infected toe (a big deal when you are walking everywhere). Alex and I both had a couple of days of a bad bug in Croatia. All four of us were all sick with gut infections in Africa. Alex gave us all a real scare because she passed out when we arrived at Ngorongoro Crater.
Thank goodness for the antibiotics we brought along. I have found that people are more interested in the challenges we encountered than the super/awesome/incredible experiences. Too much awesomeness sounds like bragging, and no one wants to be subjected to that for hours at a time.
Then, if the listener has stayed with me so far, I sometimes get into the real reason for our epic adventure – growth of the family, as individuals and as a family unit. But this part of the story really is bragging, so I need to go quick and light. I have spent so much focused time with my wife and children, and they still say they like me! My children now consider each other friends as well as brother/sister. And most importantly, at the end of our epic adventure, my wife is not only still hanging out with me, but she is beginning to plan our future travels – together! The growth of the family unit is clear to me now, and I believe our investment in these relationships will pay big dividends over the years. As far as individual growth, I watched Patrick and Alex grow in body, confidence, knowledge, and social skills as we navigated our way around the world. I have every expectation that our year abroad will pay big dividends for each of us as individuals as well.
I need to figure out how to tell the epic adventure story in a way that leaves people on the edge of their seat, wondering what happens next. Like “The Game of Thrones”, but without all the death and destruction.