I am at home with my dad in New Orleans, and I was thrust back into the stagnant economic depravity that is experienced here. We had a re-emersion session upon leaving IES Abroad where we discussed some of the things we would experience upon our return to the States. The sad reality of life is that I have family who will ask ignorant questions about what it is like in “third world countries.” They will joke about diseases, crime, and the lack of English spoken (as if that is a negative aspect). However, those same family members would be astounded to know that the families I lived with while abroad are better off than a good number of my family members in the U.S.
As I’ve been reflecting on life abroad, I am also reflecting on the current status of African Americans from New Orleans and other cities in America where people of color are at the bottom of the socio-economic and educational ladder. Many members of my family could not point to Chile nor Argentina on a map. They lack the education to ask deep or profound questions and regard my study abroad experience as a long vacation. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the questions one of my cousin asked. He wanted me to describe the differences between South America (from my limited perspective) and the United States. It was during this discussion that I began to recognize some of the similarities between the “third world” and the U.S. south. For instance, sex education is not taught in schools in neither the U.S. south (Mississippi, in particular) nor most of South America and thus both places have outrageous STD rates. Such a startling realization made me question the perceived superiority that U.S. Americans have even more than my time spent learning about the U.S. involvement in other countries. I perceive my home country differently now, maybe with more disdain than I held before as an African American. I recognize the flaws of our country with less bias in favor of the U.S.
“Funny thing about coming home; everything looks the same, smells the same, sounds the same. You just realize that the thing that’s changed is you” – Benjamin Button
The real funny thing is that I’ve been finding meaning and recognition in every little thing. This quote resonated with me while I was on my fourth airplane in route home as I watched The Curious Life of Benjamin Button instead of sleeping. I was eager to get home and here are things that I am ecstatic to get back into my life, my routine. But, I also don’t want to be here. I want to be out roaming the streets of a new city, climbing mountains I can see outside my window, and taking weekend trips to desserts and lagoons. When I was there, I missed the banal: cooking my own meals, watching movies with my family, studying with my friends. Now, I miss the adventure. And not fighting with my sister. And not sharing a room. And not feeling such strong negative emotions. My god mother asked me how I think I have changed… I told her I am more social, more adventurous, more secure. That’s how I feel right now, but in a few weeks or months perhaps those things will change.
I will be in Seattle for almost a month and while I’m certain I will be bored for most of it, my goal is to try and re-explore the city. I want to pretend that I just arrived here for the first time and force myself to find cool and interesting things to do. I think that is an important lesson I will take away from my study abroad experience: recognizing what is amazing in the banality of life.