We travel around the world to seek foreign lands, but sometimes after returning home, we find out that home is the real foreign land. After three weeks of being back in America, I feel like I am a stranger in a strange land. America has changed. There’s something different about it this time around.
There’s more crap on T.V. The country seems more superficial. (Why is everything a “Real Housewives Of…” show?)
Food portions seem to be even larger than before.
Kids seem much more cruel these days. People don’t seem as polite or nice to each other anymore.
The nation is far more divided. Every issue is blown out proportion and is a test for your politics – right, left, tea party, etc.
All in all, to me, it just feels different here now.
Then again, maybe America was always like this, I just never noticed before. Maybe I always spent so much time on trips home seeing new places and catching up with friends that I never stopped and took stock of the home I took for granted. Or maybe what I finally noticed is that I’ve changed.
They say travel changes you — but I’ve never noticed it. When you are with yourself everyday, you never really see changes in your personality. They just become part of you and seem like second nature. It’s not like when you go on a diet or take drastic action. Changes on the road are slow and happen over time and you just feel as though you were always this way.
I think being back has made me finally realize that I’ve changed.
And that somehow I don’t fit here anymore.
I compared this to my own experience, now being in my third year living abroad, and my own thoughts upon arriving at home.
And I found it to be so utterly and completely true.
My first time home after a semester in Adelaide, I didn't feel as though much has changed about the place. Still the same familiar old sights, the same old haunts that I hang out with friends in. I did feel that the place was a lot dirtier though.
My last time back, the last summer break in December last year, I was only home for a cumulative 3 or 4 weeks as I was in Shanghai for 6 weeks. But even with the short time that I was back, I did detect the subtle differences that I believe only someone unfamiliar or have been away for some time would notice.
Sadly, the only thing that I can remember is the food portions- they were considerably smaller.
But it's not just about things that changed that were alien to me. Some of the unchanged aspects of life in Malaysia did feel foreign. The ultra conservatism, narrow-mindedness and unwillingness to adapt to change, the incessant politicking over highly mundane issues, the lack of independence and emancipation.
There is a stigma that is often applied to those of us who study abroad- that we return as people who think too highly of ourselves and look down upon our fellow countrymen who are not as fortunate as us.
To a certain extent, I do agree with that stereotype. I admit, I sometimes do think that being overseas have opened my eyes more. Am I wrong to think that I'm less inclined to be bound by my culture's less desirable traits?
That's probably one of the reasons why I intend to look for a job here- the thought of being home seems stifling at times. While living at home has its perks (lots of them in fact), at the end of the day, I think it's also a wonderful opportunity.
Anyway, being back home, being among 'my people', family and friends, I did sometimes think of myself as an observer, a witness, rather than a part of what's happening- I felt removed from whatever situation I was in, and could see things that I never ever thought of before. I see how many of us in Malaysia just live without living. I don't see the meaning in what average Malaysians do.
I know, I know, it's a cultural thing, and Westerners do often get criticised for being so fickle minded and indecisive, but at the end of the day, they are doing something that they are passionate about, and not just because it's what's been drilled into them and they didn't see the need to question it.
Don't get me wrong, I love my country. I think one of the things I gained from being abroad is a sense of patriotism. I learned to appreciate the finer points of our culture- the genuine friendliness, the great food, the cheap eats, the nightlife. I don't think I will ever think of myself as anyone but a Malaysian; even if I were to land a job here and were offered Australian citizenship (though this is quite far-fetched) I simply can't imagine identifying myself as 'Australian'.