Dealing With The Disconnect

As the end of the year draws nigh, there’s a mass a mass exodus brewing.

It feels like everyone and their grandma is working out how to get home and see the family.

This is especially true for travellers. December looms and suddenly the guest houses and hostels are empty. Slow travellers have said their sad goodbyes, and are looking forward to satisfying reunions in the land they call home.

But there’s one trial left.

You get off the plane and there’s hugs and tears. Then you share photos and souvenirs and show off tan lines and scars and stories.

You’re a celebrity. People are talking about you – Nice beard! Is that a new tattoo? I love your elephant pants – and you’re enjoying the newness of coming back.

And then the polite inquiries start.

“Have you found a place to stay?”

“Are you seeing anyone?”

“How’s the job hunt?”

“What’s the plan?”

And yes, these are polite questions. Questions from people who care, and want you to be comfortable.

But something’s wrong.

These questions? They’re the questions of home.

They force you to take a close look at what life at home is like. What the people you know and love value. What they’re expectations are. What normal life looks like.

And you realise something massive.

Nothing has changed.

You have been away. You’ve tried new foods, new sleep schedules, a new way of living. You’ve met people from everywhere. You’ve got new favourite foods, favourite eating spots. You know what to buy where, how much to pay. You know how to haggle. How to get around. How to live and communicate with those around you.

And none of this feels relevant.

It’s not that you’re ungrateful. You’re glad that people have new apartments, jobs, pets, spouses, fiances, children. You’re happy that they’re making positive progress in their lives. And likewise, they’re happy for you. They can see you’ve grown as a person. Which is a nice thing to say. But it feels like lip service.

Plus there are the bad bits. The places and people you wanted to forget while away. The small-minded thinking, the casual racism. You thought you had gotten away from all this.

You feel disconnected.

You’re at a loss. You should feel at home in this space. And then it hits you.

You’re the one that’s changed.

Not just physically – the haircut, the clothing, the obligatory bracelets you trade with new friends. But as a person. Your experiences have changed how you see the world. You have new values, new interests. You see new opportunities. You are excited about future possibilities.

But it feels like there’s no recognition.

Like no one has the time spare to sit down and understand – really understand – how you have changed. To get to grips with the new you.

It’s like you’re speaking a different dialect. Sure, the language is the same, but the nuances, the subtlety – they’re lacking. The same word means different things entirely. You don’t have the vocab to communicate how big a deal it is. The only other people who get it are fellow travellers.

You feel short of breath with a desire to connect.

To share these feelings with people who just GET IT.

Have you heard of Paris Syndrome?

It is an extreme form of culture shock that occurs when (usually Japanese) visitors reach the French capital for the first time. Symptoms can include acute anxiety, and a sense of intense persecution. Others feel a sense of detachment from their surrounding, a loss of sense of self.

In part, this is due to three factors:

  • A massive change in environment and routine
  • A monumental language barrier
  • Unpleasant interactions with the locals

That last one’s an understatement. As Chelsea Fagan wrote for The Atlantic in 2011:

Parisians are constantly breaking new scientific ground when it comes to being unaccommodating and even disdainful towards foreigners.

All this, combined with an idealised image of Paris a a cultural hub, a mecca of taste and sophistication. When this expectation is shattered by the smell of dog shit and cigarette butts, rude looks and slouchy dispositions, it’s little wonder some people break down.

Does any of this sound familiar?

It should. This is what happens when you return home after an extended time away.

You’re daily routine undergoes a mass disruption. You find it hard to communicate with those around you. And there are always those people saying things that they just should not say.

The result?

You feel anxious. Perplexed. Lost.

You question why you left in the first place. If you feel changed, but nothing around you has moved an inch, was it ever worth it?

You want to return to a place that feels familiar. Where people speak your language – the language of travel.

This isn’t restricted to slow travelling. Anyone coming home feels like this.

So what’s the solution?

More travel? More of the same thing that caused this in the first place? OR staying home, getting re-acclimatised to the ups and downs of daily life in your home country?

This isn’t a rhetorical question. I have faced this disconnect many times. And it’s not getting any easier.

If you have any advice, just drop a line in the comments.

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