Returning home to Georgia, U.S.A after 13 months abroad was surreal. I spent 7 weeks in Kiev, Ukraine. And before that, I was an exchange student in Erlangen, Germany. During my 11-month stay in Germany, I didn’t visit home a single time.
I left behind a different reality in Europe and had a hard time suddenly slamming my brakes to match with the pace of life in a good ol’ suburban town.
The population of my hometown (Newnan, GA) is approximately 30,000 people, which is about the same as the number of undergraduates at my alma mater, Georgia State University. Although it has been a humbling experience to revisit my hometown, I do not feel that my roots are here, and it is quite clear that the suburban lifestyle of southern American towns, or at least this one, is too mundane for someone like me.
I no longer have the stresses that I had here as a teenager and I feel as if I am on a different level than other long-term residents… as if I am not defined by or confined to the old rumors. I see that my hometown is continually becoming more modern and more culturally diverse. But, I still have sympathy for the kids, who feel stuck here and have not had the chance to travel, or the chance to develop their beliefs at university.
It was hard coming back. Having conversations with family or old friends can be challenging. The best way to describe the scenario is Plato’s Allegory of a Cave. In other words, we limit reality to our perceptions. To become enlightened, it is necessary to see life outside of the cave. The cave represents the states of most human beings. Those who return to the cave and try to recount what they have experienced meet disbelief from those who have not left the cave. We need more than just the naming of things; we also need reflective understanding. Travelling and learning foreign languages allow us to grow past only seeing the shadows in the cave.
I am still learning languages and working on a few small projects until my “medium-size” projects take off—I am looking for local internships and work while continuing plans of travel in the States. And my “big project” is getting accepted into grad school.
A few days passed, and I was no longer waking at 4 in the morning. I guess it’s also not so bad being around people who really know you and not just the exchange student version of you… with friends who have not just seen how you’ve bloomed, but friends, who also know the “Georgia Red Clay” that you grew in and how your branches developed.