This and That: What I've Learned After 6 Months Living Abroad
There’s a scene in season 5 of Girls when Shoshanna, after a brief stint living in Tokyo, stands on a moving walkway in JFK screaming at the people around her -- like so:
Shoshanna’s reaction is apparently indicative of one kind of expat experience. Some folks who live abroad describe returning to their native country feeling turned off to what once turned them on, dragged down by feelings of disillusionment or even disdain for the place they once called home.
I wondered if that would happen to us on our first trip back to the U.S. after living in Asia for 6 months. Would we feel fed up and/or out of place? Confused? Frustrated? Overcome with reverse culture shock?
Nope, not at all.
Turns out the weirdest part about visiting home was that I didn’t feel weird at all. And that felt strange as hell, and in some sneaky way, disappointing. Part of me yearned for things to feel a little different, like it would serve as extra proof that I have in fact been living on the other side of the planet for the past six months.
The experience reminded me of Dan Gilbert's Ted Talk on the Psychology of Our Future Selves, in which the Harvard psychologist describes why humans dramatically underestimate how much they will change in the future. Gilbert says we have "a fundamental misconception about the power of time." He adds that we operate within this illusion that now is a special moment when we become the person we will always be, but in reality we are constantly changing. We just don't realize we've changed unless we're looking back on time because it's easier for us to remember how we once were than imagine how we might become.
While I may have been overestimating how much I might change (or feel changed) rather than underestimating it, it stems from a lack of understanding the power of time. I've conceptually understood this point before, but I feel it now. We've traveled and experienced more new things in the past six months than I have at any other point in my life, and part of me feels like that should show up in my thinking and feelings in really obvious ways. But I think a lot of the changes occurring are more subtle and hard to pinpoint in the moment. But I have no doubt that those shifts will feel painfully obvious in hindsight.
If you have a few minutes and haven't watched Gilbert's talk before, take a look below.