As the end of the trip neared and we all stressed throughout our State Park stay in Virginia, reflections of the trip continued to barrage me. Our experiences seemed even more distant and absurd with each day back in the United States, and above all I feared that I would slip back into my home routine. Sitting inside on the computer, watching movies, eating ice cream, losing touch with the ambition and curiosity I had spent all year trying to foster.
In Virginia thankfully, still with the group, I could work with a clear head and try to focus on what I learned most from the trip: interconnectedness. What a large and vague word that is…oddly it took a lot of journal writings and thinking to find what I learned most from the trip, and that what I learned most was not necessarily about the world or global issues, but myself. That I am not independent, that I rely on others on a day to day basis for support, motivation, food, resources, more than just the members of the group but those around the world who make my clothes, grow food, etc. In such an individualistic country and culture, it became hard for me not to place individualism and independence as the pinnacles of character. But more and more I learned that I needed to become aware that I could never truly be independent, and needed to learn that I could grow from relying on others. But as with many lessons, TBB doesn’t solve the problem, and I continue to have to reassess what independence means to me and how I interact with others according to my definitions of such terms. Nothing is solved, I just reach a new set of questions or experiences to redefine my previous solution to a problem. As a student and learner searching for concrete answers, that was probably the hardest lesson to learn: for the most important problems/issues, often there is no solution. All my life I was told that learning is a journey but never really understood why before TBB.
After an elegant graduation ceremony in the Capitol building, speeches, food, tears and hugs with the group, we left and the program ended. Home didn’t hit me until I actually left the company of the group, and felt the deep silence of being alone. I had to reintegrate myself with my family, my house, my culture, my “old life” and self. I stayed silent for the whole plane ride and car trip home, bursting out when I saw such trivial items like a plate of fruit or my house and garage. I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t open up, and I could no longer rely on the group for support like before. Seeing a plate of fruit meant “where did this come from?” and seeing my garage meant “why do we have so much stuff we don’t really need?”. TBB taught me critical consciousness and now I would have to experiment with how I could fit into my life. The scariest part was that my “self” I had evolved into over the trip wasn’t who I was the first few days and weeks of being home. Thankfully I came to realize that I hadn’t lost the group, and the cliché “don’t be sad that it’s over but happy that it happened” became more true. I understand now that as I think of TBB I know I have not lost the group, but gained a new family I can rely on at home.
Being home has meant many things. Up and down moods, boredom, sloth, fatigue, apathy, and I realize now it will take months to really acclimate back to US lifestyle. I look more at my values with each action, which means that though I feel more conscious of my choices, when I choose to ignore my values the cognitive dissonance becomes more severe. As I think about my lifestyle now I don’t really know where to quite begin. I need to refigure my values, apply them to my lifestyle and become comfortable with my way of life again. I may have been comfortable before but now seeing how I have lived I don’t know if I want to continue living the same way. People keep asking me what my favorite country was or my favorite experience, and though I answer that my favorite countries were Ecuador and China, I have no idea how to offer a favorite experience. There really was no favorite experience. The culmination of all these events and experiences changed who I am now, and I feel that I can’t easily convey such a massive year in a simple conversation. I have to redefine myself and reincorporate my TBB self into my day to day life and actions. All the opening up, interconnectedness I experienced with the group I now must apply again. I never realized before how comfortable I was with the group until I see now how inwards I have acted in the past few weeks.
Certain activities and quirks frustrate me. I spent what seemed like an hour standing in the supermarket staring at the food as I struggled to find the mere five items I needed. Trips to the movie theater have left me angry and tired rather than excited and satisfied like before. Looking into my closet and at my room I scowl at all my clothes I never wear that just take up space uselessly. I visited my cousin Peter’s school and as I sat in the foldable plastic chairs in the cold gym, I took the time to count eight people on cell phones. And still I cannot find how to incorporate the lessons I learned from the trip to motivate myself to act now. I do feel myself slipping into old routines, and though I realize that change isn’t linear and I may regress, I find myself attacked by pangs of pure indifference and laziness. Periodic apathy over the trip has become more frequent now and I need to rediscover how to combat such feelings. It’s scary. I need to relearn how to talk with my family, and have been unusually quiet in comparison to TBB, very uncomfortable in big groups of people and shocked by stores and malls. All very exhausting, but thankfully with time many of the confusions and frustrations become more clear and easier to sort out. Exercise becomes a bit more regular, structure slowly returns. With time, incorporating my TBB self into day to day interactions has been cyclical and very dependent on time of day and circumstance, yet in moments it shines through unhindered. I realize progress will be slow, but somewhat certain.
Reengaging with technology has been a major challenge. I expected so much of facebook to make me feel better the first week, so much time spent checking posts from the group, sending texts, and making phone calls, but with all of the reliance on technology I relied little on other people around me for help. Thus I secluded myself more. In an attempt to understand my situation I went more inward when I had learned the whole year that most often what had helped the most was to reach outward. The importance of engaging other people. After a year of being with people constantly, facebook doesn’t quite seem like enough, a phone call or text not as satisfying anymore. Face to face, personal conversations remain the most satisfying way of communication for me, but if I rely on such a small setting I limit myself to the connections I could make using technology. Talking with my Dad he told me that technology, phones, etc allow me to have those conversations with others that don’t need to be next to me to have meaning and purpose. I do know he’s right, but through my love for the small community feels of Ecuador or China, I must try and incorporate technology into my life without letting it invade my personal time. My Mom shares such feelings, that technology can take time away from one’s day, can take away the 100% attention that I feel others deserve from me. But then not answering a call or text also becomes taking away attention from a friend, and balancing how much time I spend with such devices/connections remains a challenge. A big help in trying to understand such a struggle came from a TED talk by Sherry Turkle called “Connected but Alone”- it’s pretty awesome.
Overall the questions I have been asking myself on TBB continue. Who am I? What are my values? How do I want to travel? And unfortunately none of these questions have answers, and as I go through these struggles thankfully I learn more about myself every day. My expectation that TBB would make sense of the world for me has certainly not come true, and each problem “solved” just reveals a new set of questions to ponder. TBB gave me an environment to try out a new me, a me that I would want to become in the future. Now I just need to bridge the gap. My progress embodies my asking these questions, and continuing to ask myself these questions while not forgetting the past year immersing myself in the “home routine”. And the biggest question of all that continues to persist and drive me insane: how do I want to live? Hopefully it will continue to persist and pester me for a few more years at least.