Day 1 in our new apartment, June 2012.
After 4.5 years away, it's been interesting how many things I "forgot" or that weren't around when we left. A great many times since moving back in June I have uttered the words "Ohh yea, Americans like that." Americans like lots of space, lots of cable tv channels, lots of choices in the supermarket, and lots of other things in the quantity of lots. I followed a friend through the grocery store buying the same detergent, pasta sauces, Indian dishes - because holy crap it's hard to imagine a more overwhelming place than an American grocery store, except for a mall, which I'm proud to say I avoided until yesterday. I've relearned being nice to telephone customer service people even after waiting on hold for an annoying "22 minutes for the next customer service representative".
Don't get me started on health insurance though - after years of easy & affordable access to medical care, I still can't talk calmly about the broken state of our system. And while we're on the topic of standing out in a crowd, don't try to convince Kyle that we should own a house or car, he stands firmly in the non-commitment column and dreams of sharing more and owning less.
Wearing couples clothes is an Asian habit that still hasn't worn off. "Winning" the Chicago 10k.
Winning at America. Mostly.
Within our first month home our lovely landlords clued me I probably didn't want the AC on when it was 60 out (what is this central air thing?). Oh, and Americans are prompt for most social occasions, except showing up at people's houses for parties, you usually don't want to be the first one, unless you're coming to help. Oh, avoid most all talk about salaries, a big contrast to living in Myanmar where multiple people asked me that before they knew how to pronounce my name. Remembering how to tip sucks - 15-20% at restaurants took me long enough to remember how to do (for a few months this was anxiety-ridden), and then I left a mega-tip for a hair dresser, because in the moment I couldn't for the life of me what amount I was supposed to give. She'll wonder why I never go back there...
All things considered, we're pretty darn good at being full-fledged Americans again. Making baked macaroni and cheese from scratch last week put me over some imaginary hump of being a full fledged American. People ask us a lot about culture shock & remind me that less than a year home isn't really that long. I guess that's true. The truth of it is, Living in 4 countries & traveling to 20+ others has made us exceptionally good at adapting.
Coming back and acknowledging a new set of norms hasn't been that bad. There's a mega-caveat there though:
Our Lifestyle Hasn't Changed.
Now granted, I've 100% neglected my passport since June, however, we're still the same explorers & we're still living like travelers. I've gone on 3 different trips since being back, I've crossed the city limits of Chicago on bike and train a ridiculous amount, I'm my own boss (take that cubicle!), and the biggest thing: we're still taking risks.
Long-time readers will remember our excitement announcing our website back in 2010, when we'd saved enough money teaching in Korea to work full-time from Bali, Thailand, & Malaysia. Since July, we've recommitted to that same mindset - to live our dreams. Our lives are much too precious to waste it doing anything else. Our first project is an iPhone travel app for Vienna (launching soon!). I pick on Kyle a bit that I'm a bigger risk taker than him, but when it comes down to it, we're taking risks lots of people are uncomfortable with. I've been a bit hushed about it on the blog, but:
- we're leaving town a number of weeks this winter
- we've re-started our tech business
- we don't have steady income insight
Our lifestyle requirements:
- doing work that makes us proud
- living healthy - running, yoga, cooking whole foods, eating gobs of rice
- constant learning - exploring Chicago, listening to NPR, and reading books
- quality time w/ family & friends
- spending lots of time together
- spending our money on meaningful things (the list above)
Fast internet & a proper home office has spoiled us rotten, and also ensures we spend PLENTY of time together.
Can we really have our "traveler lifestyle" while living back in the US?
In short, we're not sure, but we've gone all building our business. It's not always easy to keep up our priorities while living in America. We regularly have conversations if $40 + bus fare is too much to spend on a date night out, and if our finances could realistically keep up with travel dreams & someday having a mini-traveler. We're taking risks right now that's for sure. We've set out to build a totally new skill set - making iPhone apps - to diversify ourselves, but along with that, we don't have a steady paycheck anywhere insight.
The good thing is I love the risk (and Kyle gets to pretend he does), and living in the US is actually to our advantage in at least one way: we're living in the land of self-starting risk takers. I learned one thing traveling the world, Americans have a unique mind-set of possibility thinking. Americans see molds and strive to go beyond them to create what we really want. In that way I can say resolutely, I'm back home with people just like me.
Read: How is it Being Home - Part 1