It was the summer of 2008 and I was 21 years old. I had just returned from my semester abroad and expected to feel different, be different, like all those study abroad pamphlets and information sessions told me I would be. I expected reverse culture shock. I expected the U.S. to frustrate me in small ways that it had never done before. None of this happened. I was the same old me and I still loved America, the land of milk (and by milk I mean soda) and honey (and by honey I mean high fructose corn syrup). I liked driving my 2001 Hyundai Elantra, a five-speed that rode so smoothly. I liked sitting on the porch on humid, almost sticky, midsummer nights, laughing with my family. I liked drinking homemade margaritas and biting into garden fresh tomatoes, the juice running in rivets down my chin and neck.
In the fall, life went back to “normal,” whatever normal is. I was back in my favorite place, Bloomington, Indiana, its quirky coffee shops and patchouli-smelling vintage clothing stores juxtaposed with beer-guzzling frat guys and drunken tailgates. Ahh, I was home. I reunited with my college BFF, Hilary, and life was good once more.
Somehow, though, the cross-cultural bug bit me again in the form of three students from Hong Kong. Hilary had spent the spring of 2008 in Hong Kong, living the fast-paced life while I lived the slowed down one in Spain. She made an effort to reach out to the students from that same university who were now studying in the U.S. Their (American) names were Christine, Tommy, and Jackson. We quickly introduced them to many facets of American culture, including pumpkin carving, football games, Halloween parties, Guitar Hero, and Christine even spent Thanksgiving with my family. It was a whirlwind of culture clashes, language barriers, and hilarious fun. I couldn’t have imagined a better welcome home semester.
Throughout that semester, I began to really understand that, after that spring, college was over. It was difficult to fathom. What was I going to do next? I was 21, turning 22, and I had no real obligations other than perhaps student loans. I mulled it over in my mind daily, thinking long and hard about my future. I didn’t see myself starting a lifetime job right out of college. I knew that this was perhaps the only time in my life when I would be so unbound by obligations. I started to dream up ways to go back to Spain because, after all, I had this teeny advantage in that I knew the language. I was not fluent, mind you, but any sort of knowledge is better than none at all. How? I wondered, again and again. And again. Just how could I do it?
To be continued …