Or should I say undoing the big move that took place last August, a whole 9 months ago.
The time has come for me to officially say goodbye to the European lifestyle, the salty Med, and 300 days of sunshine on the tiny Island Rock I’ve come to call home over the last year. Now, nine months may not seem like a long time, and I’ve heard my fair share of misunderstood comments proclaiming how nice I have life living on an island in the Mediterranean, and while the sunshine and seashores didn’t hurt, island life isn’t all fun and games. Much to many peoples’ shock and dismay, I was not living on the Rock for vacation, but rather I was living. Going to school, meeting deadlines, facing a life crisis every now and then, and trying to maintain my social and personal lives and relationships from a 5,000 mile distance. Island life is hard.
There were times in which I was ready to leave the Rock for good, having had enough of the Maltese lifestyle. However, after buying my plane ticket and having a solidified date to countdown to, I began to realize the things I was going to miss. Most of them were little moments, such as doing homework at the Costa (European Starbucks) down the street and watching the accordion guy outside on the sidewalk, having after-school Monday TV dates so we could watch all of our American shows that aired the Sunday night before, spending Sunday afternoons at the beach across the street as the weather began to warm up, and hearing the sea right outside my window, late late at night when no more cars or loud tourists were making their way home. After slowing down and paying more attention to these parts of my life, I became more nostalgic and less antsy to get a move on.
We spent our last week together in the Tuscany region of Italy doing field work at the Maremma National Park. The week was full of hikes along gorgeous coastlines and fields scattered with poppies. Every night we were treated to four-hour long Italian dinners with platters of meats and cheese, bruschetta, pasta, and wild boar, wine and creme brulee. The field study was a class that involved intense assignments and presentations every day, but despite the exhaustion and work involved, we had a blast and enjoyed our final week of grad school together.
We returned to Malta, rented a boat, and spent the day sailing around the islands in crystal clear water for one last hoorah. Then we packed up an entire year of our lives into a few bags and flew back across the world the way we had come..
It wasn’t that easy of course. I mean, try fitting a year of your life into a few bags. And then suffering the humiliation of having the woman at the airport check-in desk tell you that every single one of your bags is overweight. She kindly turned a blind eye, saving me hundreds in baggage fees and I got all of my stuff home in two suitcases and some backpacks.
The journey itself wasn’t much of a pleasant experience either. Flying around the world for 24 hours is a tad exhausting. Add in the stress that comes when all three of your flights are delayed and the overwhelming emotions you’re feeling that you are actually coming home, this moment is actually happening, and you might find yourself, well, at not your best.
Fortunately, I had a few travel buddies along the way. Four of us ending up being on the same flight out of Malta, and I made the entire journey back to Virginia with one of my roommates, which did help to make the entire experience a bit more bearable. One of the most confusing moments came after landing in Atlanta and finding ourselves not just out of Malta, but out of Europe. No more funny accents! Well… Walking around Atlanta, we found ourselves with a bit of time to kill as yet another one of our flights was delayed. Pulling out my secret envelope of dollar bills that I’d been harboring all year was a very strange moment, as I looked at the cash and they were all the same size and color, and honestly quite ugly. I really didn’t know what to do. This feeling stayed with me as I quickly became overwhelmed by all of my food options. I was no longer limited to pasta, pizza, kebabs, or pastries. I could get burgers and pretzels and CHICKEN! But I panicked. And I went back to what I knew. Which was pizza. I just spent nearly a year living 90km from Italy and my first meal back in the US was pizza. You would’ve thought that living on the other side of the world would force me to branch out or something, but think again.
I do recall one of my greatest realizations of what it meant to be back in the US. I had gone to find some water and I stumbled across a water fountain. That I could fill my water bottle up from. With water. For free. Every restaurant I’ve been to since I’ve been back, every sink in every home I’ve visited, have been unending sources of free drinkable water that I can drink for free. No more lugging around 2 liter water bottles every day everywhere. This is America. This is freedom.
All in all, the reverse culture shock that we were promised by our program directors was not as intense as we were warned about. Other than the money and the water and the driving and the food and the TV and the accents and mountains and really most things, it didn’t come as culture shock but just as culture. It is what it is and I knew it all before so it really wasn’t a huge adjustment. Two years ago when I first started this blog, I had spent time in a very intensive short-term immersion into Eastern culture, something that differs drastically from life in Virginia. This time around, I was coming back from 9 months on a little tiny island in the Med. Both situations were different, and even though Malta has a lot of cultural diversity due to its location between Europe and Northern Africa and its incredibly rich history, it still features major aspects of Western culture. Yes some things were different, and I will never forget returning from the Netherlands and riding in the car back to our home with my friend, both of us looking out the window. She turns to me and says, “Sometimes Malta reminds me of the Dominican,” and it was such a strange moment because I had just been thinking how similar it was to some parts of Mexico I’d been through. Malta, being politically part of the European continent and so close to Italy, with a history of British colonialism, but physically located on the African plate, has evolved over the centuries to be an extremely unique island of Mediterranean life.
That unique Mediterranean life is not to be found here in western Virginia. And that’s okay. Like I said, the reverse culture shock did not hit. Going back to life beforehand is easy in the sense that it is so familiar, it’s almost as if you never left. And now I’ve been back for almost a month and I’ve starting to feel the need to leave again. Not for long, just to explore a bit.
Here’s what my life in America has looked like so far. It’s been filled with family, friends, Mexican food, and nature. All my favorite things.
For those who have asked what I’m doing this summer- I’m finishing my thesis. It is due at the end of July and then I will officially be done with school. For now. I will be participating in the December graduation ceremony at JMU and welcome all to attend! I will also be getting employed at some point along the way (here’s hoping). I’m also taking a little roadtrip with my parents to see a few MLB games- but don’t worry, I will still be working diligently on my paper throughout the trip!
Stay tuned for updates of a slightly different nature on travel through a bit of the American countryside and for my posts detailing the last leg of my Spring Break trip through Europe!