As of today at 11:00am, I’ve been on US soil for 4 months since my Peace Corps adventure came to a close. The first week back home was a blur. My parents flung open the doors of childhood home and ushered me in. There were parties, and colorful food (everything I ate in Tonga was brown), a car to use, shopping trips galore, people to see and places to go. Thanksgiving was full of deep joy; my entire family being in attendance… then Christmas, celebrating with all of the traditions I had missed so much.
People have asked, “What did you miss the most?” Here are some things that stood out to me in the first month of being home.
-Holiday parties with vegetable, cheese and cracker trays, pizza, soda and beer were overwhelming, seeing so much food in one place at one time.
-Going to a kickboxing class at the gym for the first time. The class started when it was suppose to, the air condition was working, the music played and it ended right on time.
-Being reunited with my brothers after not seeing them for over two years. -Actually being with friends after only seeing them on a screen for two years.
-Eating spinach and avocado everyday for a straight month.
But they say that coming home is harder than leaving. I’d have to agree. I think each returned volunteer adjusts to things differently. For me, it’s been the sheer mass of decisions that have to be made seemingly at the same time, that are completely overwhelming. In October 2009, I quit my job after being there for 3 years, sold my car and committed myself to two years of service to my country through serving another one. I knew that for the next two years, I would be working in whatever capacity the American government and Tongan people wanted. I wasn’t worried about being laid off or getting a paycheck.
Not only that, but my physical needs were met. Peace Corps and my school provided my housing, the US government gave me a stipend to buy my provisions with; I had good health insurance knowing that if anything went wrong, I would be taken care of. I also didn’t worry about my work. While I was concerned with teaching well and winning grants, I wasn’t worried about raises, my 401k, promotions or career changes. I didn’t have a car and grocery shopping was easy, there wasn’t much, I bought what they had.
In this transition, I’ve been struggling with the big “what’s next” questions and decisions that have to be made. They seem to all have come at once. While in the past I have changed jobs, bought cars, moved and been in relationships, I don’t think I’ve ever been faced with all of those decisions at one time. Should I buy a car? Should I go back to what I was doing before Peace Corps? I am changed, right? I want to serve here in the US, but I also have to pay the bills. Should I pursue starting a family? Where should I live? Stay in California or move on?
I have heard it can take a year to be fully transitioned back to America after living abroad. Here’s to the beginning of month 5 and the hope that I’ll continue to move forward. I am so grateful to those living alongside me right now. And for those of you group 75ers out there; I am with you in this thing. Let’s continue to do it together.