I’m going to preface this post by stating that I’m well aware of the fact that I’ve been home for less than two weeks, not exactly long enough to re-settle and adjust to life back in Australia.
Thomas Wolfe once said “you can’t go home again”. But it turns out you can. As long as you have the right visa, of course.
Yes, it’s been eleven days. Twelve days since I left Timor. Thirteen days since I came ever-so-close to arrest and deportation, thanks to Visa Gate, 2013 (which deserves a post all of its own). Twelve days since I said “see you later” to the place that had been my home for three months, the people who had become my family.
I’m well versed in the process of reverse culture shock – that strange feeling of being a stranger in what is meant to be your home. I know to expect it, the forms it takes, the coping strategies. I’ve been here before, and part of my job includes counselling study abroad students on what to expect when they return home.
Despite this knowledge, I have once again been slapped in the face by the cold reality of “home”. Only this time, something is different. Sure, there have been all the standard occurrences. I may have said “deskulpa” instead of “sorry” when I bumped into someone at the airport, and gone with “obrigada” instead of “thank you” when ordering a coffee. I’ve had to be reminded to put on my seat belt in the car on more than one occasion. The large selection of milk at the supermarket seems excessive – full cream, skim, permeate-free, lactose-free, fat-free, heart active, organic, soy, milk with added vitamin D. Seriously? Is that really necessary? Is there really a need for that much milk? And don’t even get me started on the bread… Then there’s what seems to be the very real fear that I will literally freeze to death after going from a tropical climate to what seems to be an unusually chilly autumn.
These are all things I’ve been faced with before upon a return home from overseas. This time, however, something isn’t following the usual lines of re-entry. I’m stuck with a feeling of not-quite-rightness that has never been there before.
Familiarity seems to be colliding with a feeling of discomfort. The orderly manner of Australian life seems glaringly impersonal and unnatural. My street is devoid of people, and when there is the odd neighbour about, they barely give a smile of recognition, let alone ask me how I am, where I’m going or where I’ve been. My house, with all of my belongings, my dog and my lovely housemates, doesn’t exactly feel like home anymore. Seeing my friends and family has been fantastic. They’ve been patient, listened to all the stories, feigned interest in my rants about the failures of capacity building projects in Timor, but there was something about sitting in my mum’s apartment, drinking wine and watching movies that felt foreign, even though it’s something we’ve done a million times.
The comforts of home that I’ve been talking about for the past month – cheese, chocolate, a good shower, and the ability to be able to drink water straight from the tap – all lost their shine far too quickly. The things that pleased me for weeks after my return from a semester studying in Thailand aren’t quite as novel now.
Early on in my time in Timor, I wrote about how I was falling in love. I later wrote about a sort-of lovers quarrel that Timor and I were having. Now, it would seem that Timor and I are a love-struck couple who have been torn apart. My short time in the tiny half-island nation left an impression on me, to say the least.
Perhaps this feeling of uneasiness comes from the knowledge that I will only be home for a short while; that I will soon be returning to Timor for a few months. I’m in limbo – not quite here, but not there, either.
Or maybe old Thomas Wolfe was right, and you really can’t go home again. The home you thought you were returning to is not the same, because you are not the same. Whatever the case, this particular flavour of reverse culture shock is not enjoyable, but I’ll get through it.
If I don’t freeze to death before then.