On Returning.

Today is August 16, 2020, and I can officially say I’ve been back in America for just shy of five days. I’ve successfully moved back, though my trip wasn’t without hiccups and hitches.

But I think that’s to be expected, given -you know- the pandemic.

My feelings are decidely mixed, five days after landing. I find it hard to express how I’m truly feeling right now, in large part because I feel very different about being in America moment to moment. But once more, I think that’s to be expected given -you know- the pandemic: so much is because of the pandemic.

By and large, I just feel strange. Strange because I took an international flight mid-pandemic. Stranger still because that flight occured during an on-going Level 4 Travel Advisory, which is something I’d say most of the world is together in experiencing for the first time.

Stranger still because I feel so far from home even though I’m an American. Strangest still because a part of me feels so starkly out of place being back in the US after four years of not living here.

I think that dissonance is natural for ALTs especially: the JET Program even mentions -and emphasizes- reverse culture shock and the impact of coming back to a country that is technically your home, but feels like another foreign nation. Usually, there’d be alumni meetings and groups and gatherings to make weathering this easier: but… pandemic.

So far, a lot of my shock has come from just physically back in America. I’m having trouble speaking fast. Saying numbers out loud has become a task, especially if they’re big and I don’t remember the right word order. Common phrases leave my mind like birds. Everyone speaks really loudly on TV. Food tastes so differently.

I imagine that once I can go around others, I’ll notice more things that widen the gap between who I was, who I am, and who everyone else has come to be. I imagine that, to a great degree, I’ll notice the gulf between myself and others. I’m not sure how to feel about that future moment.

The pandemic and political tension in American only stresses just how much of an outsider I am: while I was well aware about everything that’s been happening over the past four years -I’ve never had the priviledge not to be- the constant barrage of political commercials feel overwhelming. I’ve found myself thumbing through old recordings on the DVR just to avoid seeing DJT and Biden. It’s so much: it’s just so much.

A big part of my heart feels like I left home again, and with good reason: I grew up in Japan. I became an adult in Japan. When I left America, I was 23 and for the first time in my life, I wasn’t a student. When I arrived in Japan on July 24, 2016, I swan-dived into adulthood. I spent four years -1,480 days, from the day I landed to the day I left- in Japan, teaching and growing and travelling and becoming myself. My first job was there. My first apartment was there. My first experiences being fully independent were in Japan.

I came here with a child’s understanding: after all, I was 23. I’d just stopped being a student. In Japan, I became an adult: I learned how to teach, how to be a better student, how to travel on my own. I rode trains just for fun, hopped on my bike and went off around the river just to do it, travelled up and down the rails for day trips to the big city. I spent four years growing and learning and becoming: it’s strange to have that end, even if I discount the other things happening in the world right now.

As of today, I’m almost 28: my birthday is 31 days away, though I find it hard to be excited about it this year. If anything, I feel incredibly detatched from the occassiona, and just generally unmored. I can’t even think about next week, nevertheless all the things I’ve got to do just today and tomorrow. Most of that is pandemic: a lot of it is uncertainty and general anxiety.

Then again, that’s largely derived from the pandemic too.
(After all, who isn’t feeling some kind of way due to the pandemic?)

I wish I could end this post with a bit more optomism: I wish I could tell you that I’m happy to be back in America, that I feel excited and enthusiastic and hopeful. But right now, I don’t, not entirely. I feel like a foreigner in my own home country. I feel worried about what’s next. And I don’t know how long those feelings will last.

I write this on a Sunday, which for many people, is a rest day before the work week resumes. For me, it’s a rest day before I start making lists and catching up on emails and editing and podcast prep. But since it’s a rest day, I think I’m going to let myself tuck into a book. I think I’m worth the break. I might do a bit more job hunting today, but in a bit… books and waiting on my Amazon delivery.

I think even a Blerd needs a break.

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