The shock of returning

I return to the familiar University and new classes; an old but slightly changed group of friends.

I, like most students who have studied abroad, was warned by my study abroad adviser that I might become mildly depressed after returning to the United States. So far, the only thing I’ve found depressing was having to listen to 10 minutes of President George W. Bush’s coronation, oops, I mean inauguration, in my journalism class, but I have experienced a few instances of reverse cultural shock – instances when the culture of my home country startled me in much the same way Scotland startled me when I first arrived there.

Having traveled abroad before, I was familiar with some of the shocks of re-entry into the United States, most notable was that of being able to understand what everyone around me said. From my previous trips to France and Germany, my mind had been conditioned to expect that when I step off the plane from a non-English-speaking country, I will hear our form of English.

Returning to Scotland from spending Christmas with my Bavarian relatives, it was obviously not U.S. English that greeted me, even though, subconsciously, that’s what my brain was expecting. The Scottish accent suddenly seemed harsh and unwieldy to my ears that had grown to love it. I readjusted quickly and was amazed that I had to translate Scottish English for my parents when they arrived to spend New Year’s with me. As happy as I was to see my parents again, parts of my brain retreated into denial that their visit meant my time in Scotland was coming to a close.

My lowest point came after my parents left. They were flying directly back to the United States, but I was going to London for two days and, therefore, had a few lonely hours to spend after they left. My flatmates and friends were still gone on their winter break, so I called their

voicemails to listen to their voices. When I tried to clean my empty room, I started crying so hard I knew I would be sick if I did not find a way to stop. I locked my empty room and went to the flat of an American who was also staying in Edinburgh, Scotland, for part of winter break. She sat with me until it was time to go to the airport.

Leaving London two days later wasn’t hard at all. It wasn’t Edinburgh.

I arrived in Chicago in the middle of a snow storm and had to spend the night in a hotel. It wasn’t until taking the shuttle back to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in the morning that my brain received the “back in the United States” shock. The radio station in the shuttle was talking about the number of Americans killed by the tsunami, and I had been expecting to hear about the British.

My mother met me at the airport in Dubuque, Iowa. I was surprised to see the father of a friend there waiting for a Thai student who was coming to the University of Dubuque. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I can never be in Dubuque for more than a few minutes without running into someone I know.

My friend’s family owns a house in Ireland, so the father tried to speak Irish Gaelic to me. Unfortunately, Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic are almost completely different languages, but it was comforting to know that if I ever wanted to try practicing Gaelic, I could.

Dubuque has some of the most authentic German and Irish pubs you’ll find outside of those countries, but it wasn’t to any of those that a friend took me my first Saturday home. It was to one of the most down-home, rural U.S. bars Dubuque has, where I was shocked to discover the bartender put ice in my vodka and Coke. I had forgotten I was back in a country where “no ice” has to be requested. And then there was the music, not the British indie rock that is incomparable, but a band covering U.S. pop music, which I had grown to hate even more during my time abroad.

I couldn’t wait to get back to Minneapolis, where even though it wasn’t Europe, it was liberal, it was big-city and it had semidecent public transportation. The city is both the same and different in a balance that I love. The University of Minnesota is dear and familiar, but my classes are new. Most of my friends are here, but they’ve changed a bit since I’ve seen them.

Because I lived in Dubuque the summer before I went to Edinburgh, I haven’t spent much time in

Minneapolis since turning 21, and this has opened up entirely new areas of the city for me to explore this spring.

My return to Minneapolis has also reaffirmed my belief that things happen for a reason. I hadn’t wanted to live in Dubuque last summer, but living there meant I was there for my maternal great aunt’s funeral, my cousins’ high school graduation parties and the birth of my godchild, all events I would have missed if I had spent the summer a five-hour drive from home.

And now, I have a paternal aunt in Florida who is very sick. Being in Minneapolis means I can visit her before it’s too late, something I couldn’t do if I were still in Scotland. As hard as it was to leave Edinburgh, living in Minneapolis is not hard, even though it’s still a bit shocking at times.

R.R.S. Stewart welcomes comments at [email protected]