It has been exactly 80 days since I said my final teary see-you-laters to Krystal, and boarded my flight back to Minneapolis from my whirlwind year with Remote Year Earhart.
In the time it took Phileas Fogg and his trusty valet to circumnavigate the world and win an epic bet, I’ve finally (maybe…mostly?) come to terms with being home.
In the past 80 days I’ve done the following:
- Questioned daily whether or not I’d made the right choice in not continuing to travel for longer.
- Mourned the loss of a time in my life that was something truly special and won’t ever be able to replicated.
- Commiserated with my fellow Earharts, now scattered to the four winds, the loss of said time and the difficulties of home.
- Celebrated reconnecting with friends.
- Snagged a cute affordable apartment after some serious Craigslist perseverance and 10 different apt tours.
- Worked from an office cube-land again.
- Realized that it’s really hard to go back to office cube-land.
- Spoke with my manager to switch my working routine to 2 days a week in the office, which helped immensely.
- Questioned once again about making the right choice when I realized how much stuff was still in my storage unit.
- Donated about a third of what was in my storage unit that I no longer found joy or purpose in.
- Dealt with reverse culture shock and mild depression.
- Fell in love again with the openness reflected back at me from my fellow Earharts once I was open with my struggles.
Reverse culture shock is a phenomenon that some people experience when returning to their homes after extended stays abroad where you adapt to a different culture. You realize that your home has changed, you have changed, and you have to re-adapt. Mostly, it just fucking sucks.
Since my life was a constant state of change on RY, my main dissonance came from the change in the pace of life. Going from 100 miles an hour to basically slamming on the brakes is rough. Objects in motion like to stay in motion, AKA inertia is a bitch.
For me, my reverse culture shock manifested in a few different ways, but mainly:
- Finding myself incredibly sad about the lack of amazing tacos al pastor.
- Being overwhelmed by the amount of English. You get used to easily tuning out a language you can’t really understand. Your native language then tends to stick out like a sore thumb when you hear it.
- This was particularly bad in the office where I’d be surrounded by conversations that I could have a part in. It would get overwhelmingly loud and I couldn’t focus. I ended up having headphones in with white noise pretty often.
- Getting exhausted by having the same conversations with casual acquaintances and coworkers. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE talking about my experiences, and I LOVE that these people had a genuine enough interest to ask. But when I first got home I was still grieving the experience. It was like making small talk at a funeral about your lost loved one. It was so. hard.
- A profound sense of wrong-ness about everything
- It’s easy to order coffee? I don’t have to ask for my café con leche de almendra in incredibly broken Spanish? WRONG.
- Living with my friends*? WRONG.
- Moving into my own apartment? WRONG.
Nothing I did seemed anything but WRONG.
For me, this wrong-ness directly stemmed from when I was frankly over moving every month towards the end of my trip. I created this unattainable utopia in my head that I’d labeled “Home” and I daydreamed about it when I was having a rough time. It was basically every perfect thing about the apartment I had before I left frozen in time on a perfect fall day. If I close my eyes I can still viscerally picture it.
My friends home is a lovely home, but it wasn’t my “Home”. My new apartment, full of boxes and furniture I needed to put together which was hot and humid as fuck certainly wasn’t compatible with the picture in my head either.
Each day is a new struggle that I’m navigating one at a time. It’s definitely a lot better. Now that I’ve unpacked most of my boxes (and purchased an air conditioner) this space is starting to feel more like “Home”. My friends, near and far, have all been wonderful and supportive. I’m getting back into hobbies that I loved previously and couldn’t do while traveling.
Most days I think that coming back to Minneapolis was the right thing to do. I’m no longer scared that I’m going to lose the person I became while traveling with Remote Year, because I realize that that person is me, and I am that person. I’m just figuring out the new version of me that I want to be who exists somewhere between home and the great wide somewhere.
*Not because of my friends, they were (and are) wonderful fucking people for letting me live with them in my transition times. Shoutout to Janelle, Brendin, baby Kennedy, and the animal crew.
Years ago I came across a small bit of text, shared to Tumblr and then screen capped and re-shared to Facebook with significantly fewer pixels than the original image. It’s not very long, but the visual it evokes has stuck in my head since I read the original words.
It took some digging, but I managed to find the original.
I hope that in the future they invent a small golden light that follows you everywhere and when something is about to end, it shines brightly so you know it’s about to end.
And if you’re never going to see someone again, it’ll shine brightly and both of you can be polite and say, “It was nice to have you in my life while I did, good luck with everything that happens after now.”
And maybe if you’re never going to eat at the same restaurant again, it’ll shine and you can order everything off the menu you’ve never tried. Maybe, if someone’s about to buy your car, the light will shine and you can take it for one last spin. Maybe, if you’re with a group of friends who’ll never be together again, all your lights will shine at the same time and you’ll know, and then you can hold each other and whisper, “This was so good. Oh my God, this was so good.” – I wrote this for you
My heart is heavy right now as I procrastinate packing my life up into my trusty suitcase one last time. And I close my eyes tightly, blinking back tears, and trying to shut out the light that I imagine shining brightly above my head.
And tonight when we gather at Kelly’s apartment one last time to drink our fridges empty and cry our eyes out, I’m going to hold everyone so tight.
Because oh my god you guys.
This was so good.
Final call for Remote Year 13, Earhart, final call.
Final curtain. Final month. Final countdown.
You can really label it whatever you want, but the “final” part is unfortunately non-negotiable. Like the groups that have ended before us, we are trying to figure out what this means for each of us. And as we start our taco and tequila fueled death march towards becoming “was” instead of “am” I’ve been reflecting on what this might mean.
So many milestones are marked not by the doing, but by the graduating from. I was in high school. I was in college.
“I am traveling with Remote Year.”
But in 20 days, that statement will change.
“I was traveling with Remote Year.”
The difference feels uncomfortable when I try saying it aloud. There is a profound sense of loss in “was”. But where there is loss, there is also opportunity. Because of Remote Year, I’ve gained so many ams’.
I am who I was, but better.
I am a world traveler.
I am a cliff diver.
I am a designer of several peoples tattoos.
I am a strong independent woman who don’t need no man.
You get the idea.
There will always be a shared history and connection between the people who travelled with Earhart, regardless of the duration. I count myself incredibly lucky that I now know amazing people from every corner of the globe.
But once the am changes to was, the connection is bound to change, because change is the way of the universe. Everything always changes after everything.
I know realistically, some of the connections will be similar to the friends you make at school. Proximity and shared goals makes quick friends, but once those pieces are gone the connection fades naturally. I’m sure we’ll keep up with one another on Facebook, post happy birthday, share memories and memes that induce nostalgia. If we find ourselves in the same corner of the globe, dinner will be had, drinks will be drunk, and reminiscing will occur.
But some of the connections I’ve made this year run much deeper. These are the ones that I’m sure will end up in fated adventures throughout the rest of our lives, seeking out the amazing corners of the globe that were missed the first time around. Still waters run deep, and I’m sure that even if we go weeks or months without connecting we’ll be able to pick everything up right back where we left off. These are the friendships of a lifetime, threads of fate woven together at just the right moment and time to create something beautiful.
I am melancholy about this upcoming change.
I will mourn the loss of this special thing that we’ve shared.
I will cherish the small amount of time I have left.
I will always remember what this was to guide who I am.
I’ve been on a bit of a musical kick lately, including Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim. There’s a particular song that I’ve found parallels a lot of my thought processes lately.
You see, I’m currently in month 10 of a 12 month adventure with Remote Year. Which means I only have two months and some change left before this big, scary, wonderful adventure crashes to the ground. Two months left of exploring new cities and countries. Two months to figure out what I’m going to do with my life and where I’m going to do it.
Into the Woods is all about different fairytales weaving together. One of them is Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack procures some magical beans and they grow into a giant beanstalk, which Jack climbs to find the sky-land of the giants. Before this, all he’s ever known is the small cottage he lives in at the edge of the wood.
Just like Jack, I’ve never lived anywhere but the city that I grew up in (Minneapolis, MN). To me, Remote Year was a chance to see the sky.
When you’re way up high
And you look below
At the world you’ve left
And the things you know,
Little more than a glance
Is enough to show
You just how small you are.
When you’re way up high
and you’re on your own
In a world like non
That you’ve ever known,
Where the sky is lead
And the earth is stone,
You’re free,to do
Whatever pleases you,
Exploring things you’d never dare
And you know things now
That you never knew before,
Not till the sky.
Remote Year has been a year of exploration, discovery, and firsts for me. It’s been a year of excitement and adrenaline and fear.
- Booking a one way ticket
- Living somewhere other than MN (and not living anywhere at all)
- Cliff jumping
- Living on a boat/sailing
- Rappelling down a waterfall
- Painting a mural
- Hiking up a full blown mountain (MN is pretty flat, okay?)
- Literally losing my breath from the view in front of me
- Using tinder haha
- Seeing a pangolin in real life!
- Dancing until sunrise
The amount of firsts in the last year have been staggering. I’ve taken baby steps out into the great wild world and found myself more fearless than I thought I would be. The support I’ve gotten from my tramily has certainly helped, but I’ve even surprised myself.
Early today I repelled down a waterfall in Colombia. I’ve belay repelled before in a rock climbing gym, but never done a self-controlled repel, and certainly not through a waterfall.
And at the top of this cliff, looking down, I was surprised to feel… excited. Challenged. Adrenaline, for sure.
But fear was …curiously absent.
It’s a stark contrast to the knot of fear deep in my core I felt before jumping off an 8 meter (26ft) cliff. (For some perspective, this is about the same as jumping from a 3 story building or so… and I picked the lowest level jumping point). Granted, the two are a little different, but at the same time I think it spells out a lot of the changes I’ve felt in myself throughout this last year.
And you scramble down
And you look below,
And the world you know
Begins to grow:
The roof, the house and your
Mother at the door.
The roof, the house and the world
You never thought to explore.
And you think of all the things
And you wish you could in
And you’re back again,
Only different than before.
After the sky.
Just like Jack, I’m going to have to climb down from my sky.
And just like Jack, I’m different than before.
And I want to live in between the sky and the ground.
I’m not quite sure what that means yet, but I’m excited to figure it out.
I feel like I’m on the cusp of a great personal discovery and just can’t quite grasp it, as I sit contemplating my life and who I am on the bus from Cúc Phương National Park back to home in Hanoi, Vietnam. It’s a weird setting for deep introspection, especially with the bright purple brocade curtains and bumping Vietnamese techno pop music blaring out of bad speakers.
I’ve recently slowly started to come to the realization that who I think I am and the person that other people see are pretty drastically different. And I’m also realizing that I want my inner and outer narratives to be more in line with one another.
In Budapest during my second month, I decide to take a jump and get the undercut I’ve been thinking about for a while. For my birthday, I curl (what’s left of) my hair and wear dark lipstick. I remark to others that the new haircut makes me look a lot more punk than I actually am. I wonder what the rest of the world thinks of me when they see me on the street.
I wonder if I care.
I give a hug to one of my program leaders. She turns and mentions that I’m not usually a huggy person. I’m a little shocked. I come from a hug-heavy family and have always considered myself a hugger.
Then I realize that I’ve not been a hugger on this trip, and that I’ve been very reserved with physical affection.
It bothers me, and makes me reflect on why I’ve been so reserved.
After a few drinks, I confess to a fellow remote that I feel like I don’t fit in with the group sometimes and that its been hard. They respond with surprise – they’d seen me as fitting in with everyone, outgoing and social. Something to aspire to. A few weeks later I’m talking with another remote, someone I thought was fitting in in a way I was jealous of. They confess the same thing to me that I’d just confessed a few weeks ago.
I’m beginning to sense a pattern.
I’ve always had a bit of eidetic memory, being able to recall weird facts and research quickly. That, in addition to being a little addicted to researching random topics when I come across a question I don’t know the answer to, has led to a lifetime of being pretty good at trivia. My cousin growing up used to call me a human dictionary. In school I had to learn to suppress the urge to answer everyone’s questions because it very quickly led to teasing and being ostracized. In the beginning of my Remote Year trip, I again found myself trying to hide this part of myself out of habit, but eventually it emerged as I became more comfortable around my tramily.
Some of the group has taken to calling me “Siri” and asking me questions like they’d ask their iPhones. It makes me laugh every time they do it, and I enjoy the newfound ability to be a know-it-all without it leading to resentment. I get to flex my nerd brain a bit (as my fellow remote Connor calls it), and I like it. However, I still worry internally that people think I’m being a show-off and think I’m annoying when I know the answers to their questions.
Despite the confidence I tend to project, my inner narrative is a lot more unsure of myself. This is the little voice that asks questions like “What if someone figures out you aren’t what everyone thinks you are?” And “Why would you think they’d like and accept you when you put your foot in your mouth like that?” This is the voice on the inside that has come from years of lacking self confidence. I think in some way shape or form I’ve always felt like I’ve lacked self confidence, and any outward projection of confidence was just me faking it. And I’ve also come to realize during this trip that almost everyone has this little asshole voice.
The phrase “fake it till you make it” seems particularly apt lately. Because I finally feel like I’ve faked being confident for long enough to finally start fighting against my internal voice of self doubt and realize that I should feel like the badass woman on the inside that I’m living on the outside.
I think a part of my heart will always reside in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
When I meditate on it, home feels like the breeze from a nearby lake rustling bright green leaves that sway overhead as I lay in a hammock drinking craft beer. It feels like the chill of winter during the first true snow of the season when big flakes fall from the night sky like shooting stars and everyone forgets about being an adult for a few precious hours while building men and angels from the powder.
Its the familiar sound of a friends laugh in a cozy home, affection from pets, good conversations about everything and nothing. It’s D&D on Thursday nights when the roll of a dice can make or break your outlandish ideas on how to deal with dragons. It’s the feel of an xbox controller in my hand as I LAN with friends.
It’s easy to forget that I’ve only been traveling with my RY tramily for a few months now, and that everyone is still getting to know everyone else. After a conversation about a topic that I’ve since forgotten, a new friend said very candidly. “Wow. Melissa. I’m beginning to realize you are a GIANT nerd.”
I laugh, smile, and shrug. “Sounds about right.”
There is another side of my heart, however, that has heard the call of the wild. I feel a little like Legolas now, whose warning from Galadriel hits closer to home than I ever imagined. (Remember that part about me being a giant nerd?)
Legolas Greenleaf long under tree
In joy thou hast lived. Beware of the Sea!
If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore,
Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more.
After spending my entire life in a land-locked state, Remote Year is the first time I’ve ever lived near an ocean or sea. And in two months time, I have heard the siren’s call, and I am utterly enthralled.
In Croatia, my apartment was close enough to the edge of the Adriatic that I could go down to the hard rock beaches in the morning, take a nap in the sun, cool off in the surf, and head to work thoroughly encouraged by all vitamin D laced sunshine. Lisbon’s beaches are a little harder to get to, but I still find myself drawn to them whenever I can find them. While I am still quite pale, I’m about 6 shades more tan than when I started on this trip. I generally like it, though the tan lines are unforgiving.
This morning before work, I started the day with my least favorite activity, waking up early. I’ve been spoiled by the timezone switch in Europe, allowing me to have the luxury of unhurried mornings. Waking up slowly, taking my time, eating lunch. This month I’ve been sacrificing my glorious mornings once a week for the last 3 weeks to attend surfing lessons, because it seemed exactly like the thing I should be doing in a place like Portugal.
Let me tell you that it might look effortless when you watch surfing movies or the pros on a beach, but I can officially attest to its difficulty. This morning I managed to surpass my previous record of twice to stand up on a surfboard 6 whole times in one lesson. And I’m beginning to see why people are so into it. It’s kind’ve expensive, but I’m going to try and make it to one more session before I leave.
I am a heart divided. Half of my heart is the deep forest with its twisting roots that are wrapped solidly around the home I have known for 27 years and the life that I have built there. The other half is the embodiment of a summer breeze, where anywhere feels like home when I can walk from my apartment to the grocery store or the working space without needing Google maps. It’s the pin dropped on the map, the little blue dot, wherever I happen to be in the world whenever I happen to be there. Perhaps one of the things I am destined to learn on this trip is how to balance between the two.
I’ve spent the last week or so with a pretty nasty cough. But it was just a cough, something to be soldiered through. After all, I’ve got work to do, and a city to explore.
Then it wasn’t just a cough anymore. It was a freight train that slammed into me and made it impossible to do anything but binge watch Dr. Who (call me the impossible girl… impossible to get out of bed and do anything clever). In fact, you know its really really bad when I take my time off to be sick in bed instead of, you know, literally anything else.
This freight train (charmingly named “Bronchitis”) has caused me to miss about every planned event that I was excited about in Budapest. I’ve missed archery competitions, sunset cruises on the Danube, a canoeing trip, and spelunking through caves beneath the city. The one event I did rally for was an outing that I’d planned to celebrate Kim’s birthday and mine, to go to a “sparty”. A gratuitous party in one of the more famous bathhouses here. It was also apparently the worst possible one I could have chosen as it made everything 10x worse. In fact, the Hungarian doctor I went to warned me specifically against the bathhouses. Apparently the water is great for your skin, joints, and arthritis; and really horrible for any sort of respiratory illness. I woke up the next morning with a fever over 100° F. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
My roommates throughout this whole ordeal have been wonderful, getting me food, asking if I need anything, insisting that my constant coughing really isn’t annoying and that I shouldn’t feel bad (bless them all).
Despite knowing I need the self care, to take time, to not push myself, I am struggling with feeling like I’ve missed out on valuable experiences in a place I don’t know if I’m ever going to visit again (though I hope to!). Remote year has this strange effect on time. Sometimes I feel like I’m traveling in the TARDIS, where weeks can go by in the span of days, but everything moves much faster than expected. Every lost opportunity is felt, every night I spend coughing is another night wasted.
Being sick is part of traveling, it’s part of life. But its definitely a part I wish I could fast forward through.
Have I mentioned I’m really whiny when I’m sick?
Two days ago I woke up with a cough, and that morning marks the first time I’ve been sick since I began traveling just over a month ago. I don’t get sick very often anymore, so when I do get sick, I tend to get very whiney about it.
So here I am, sitting in Budapest, whining about being sick.
It’s days like today that make me realize just how far away I am from the comforts of home. Just minutes ago I was in a local coffee shop, getting something warm to soothe my throat and caffeinated because a girls gotta work and the DayQuil I just popped isn’t quite cutting it. I ended up having about a 5 minute misunderstanding with the barista who thought I said I wanted ice cream* when I wanted rice milk in my cappuccino.
Normally, this sort of interaction wouldn’t phase me. I’d laugh a little bit, give a smile, and move on with my day; understanding that these sorts of interactions are going to happen literally all the time as I’m traveling internationally. Today, however, in my DayQuil induced haze, it’s more difficult to get through the small things.
It made me stop, think, and appreciate the little things that you don’t think about when you are living in a new place where you don’t speak the language. Like how the simple act of getting coffee can be one of the most confusing parts of your day.
* Side note, getting a create-your-own cappuccino with a double shot of espresso and ice cream is totally a thing in Europe and it’s amazing. Just not quite what I wanted today.