I just got home from my first trip abroad in 10 years, and my first trip abroad as an adult. It's strange to realize that, considering how often I think about traveling and consider myself "well-traveled."
In many ways, I've become fully American. When I fly over Los Angeles, it feels like coming home. I quickly sink back into routines and old frames of mind, but there are fragments of me that got to step out of my time and my world for a little bit while traveling. Coming home feels like viewing the world from underwater - being conscious that I'm reentering a bubble, and everything feeling muted and warped for a few days while I re-calibrate and absorb new experiences into the old ones.
How odd to have to remind myself of the things that I care so much about here at home, and try and avoid the cycles of frustration and burnout that I'm generally stuck in. How odd that my world is largely a construct of my own perspective, and when taken out of my regular environment, I am floating and detached from all those things that have felt like solid identity.
How typical, really, for me to have been surprised to realize that the United States is not as important as I thought. No one was talking about American politics, no one was waiting with baited breath or heavy sighs to see what was going to happen. Are all the things I care about and pore over only weighty in my own micro-climate? How can I be so easily distracted from what I find most important when I'm at home? How refreshing to take a break, but how laughable that I get to choose whether it even affects me.
I think of travel as something that "everyone but me" gets to do regularly. Again, what a narrow lens I generally view the world from. I was struck by how unusual it is that most of the people closest to me prioritize international travel above most other experiences, and how unusual to travel for leisure without our children. Guilt and pleasure mingled in that decision, and it made me think hard about where to go from here in terms of raising our children with a global perspective. I often consider Asia to be in their blood because it is in mine, but the truth is that experiences are not hereditary and they have zero connection to it. All of those things that come with growing up abroad are things that are being projected on them by me, rather than them taking part in it. How do I change that without moving abroad with them? Should I change that?
I knew that Asia today would not be the same Asia I left. What I didn't realize is that traveling for leisure in a 3rd world country is grueling, and lonely. So much of the hardship of traveling in Asia was absorbed by my parents and shielded from me last time I was traveling there. This time, many people were not friendly, and we couldn't even speak the same language as other tourists. Before now, I have only ever traveled in groups or to visit people I know, so this was a new dimension of alienation. Frankly, it seemed like a ludicrous scenario, at times. I have never been interested in traveling around Europe or in hopping from hotel to hotel, taking guided tours. That is not experiencing the real world (the latter, that is). And yet, even backpacking tourism seems like such an American thing to do. To willingly subject myself to discomfort, inconvenience, and alienation in the name of "experience". I don't regret it, but it is a rather strange concept.
I want to blend in and belong in Asia seamlessly, but I don't. Chinese and Thai people don't think of me as belonging there, nor is it easy for me to be there. I am an American now.