The Identity Crisis Faced by Travellers, or,  “How was your Trip?”

Hang-gliding in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Hang-gliding in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

I have been home for one week now, after a year on the road visiting China, Chile, Bolivia, Perú, Ecuador, Colombia, the USA, Brazil and Argentina. It was a spectacular journey in every sense; sights, relationships, learning, self. There will be posts up telling you about the cool things and continent highlights soon, I promise. 🙂

Naturally over the last week I have been asked these two questions repeatedly by every friend and family member, by strangers, even by customers at my new job:

“How was your trip?”
“What’s it like to be home?”

These are lovely, friendly questions, and an awaited invitation to talk about the experiences I’ve had to anyone who is willing to listen. I’m bursting with stories, ecstatic with memories, overwhelmed by adventure, reminiscent of interesting mishaps and reveling in newly formed relationships. I cannot wait to tell people about the 2.7km waterfall I saw, the colours the Caribbean Sea, what it’s like to sleep in hammocks, and wake up with cockroaches on you. Whatever your experience, I’m certain that you’ll relate as a backpacker, a trekker, an exchange student, working away from home or maybe simply trying to explain how you felt at certain times or feel now to somebody.

The dilemma here is that nobody will ever be able to fully empathise with your journey, nobody will understand your experience.

That is an incredibly isolating realisation.

Unfortunately for the experience-ee, the answer people are generally looking for, is “great, and yes it’s nice to be home again.” While these are perfectly honest answers, I assure you (and yes it is fantastic to be with my family and friends again after missing home so so much 😀 ), they do not do justice to the experience you have had. It’s like being given a masters degree and casually saying “that was cool” without recognising the processes of gaining it over the last chunk of the person’s life.

This is because everyone’s experiences are subjective. Those at home know not about the challenges you faced or how scared you were at times. They can only listen, if they will allow you to talk. Chances are, most of them will feel overwhelmed by the stories you have and photos to share. They will relate to a few ideas you share, but all and all, they are simply happy to have you back and continue with the way forward. Fair enough 🙂

After all, how does one summarise a year in a simple response?

Conversely, how do you, the returnee, understand their year home also?
How did you yourself, knowing all of this, react to your friend coming home? Chances are you behaved similarly to the experience you’re having now. I know I sure have.

Going away for a while naturally can create a void between your past life and the life upon return. People are more or less the same upon returning, but their circumstances have changed and perhaps “home” has too.

 

Hence begins the identity crisis

You yourself return with a different identity.

You are no longer a simple kiwi relating to kiwi things. You return an updated person. You are the same, but your value set, ideas, outlook on life, goals and ways of living have adjusted. The most important changes for me personally were in my value set, and ideas of social norms.
You become hyper-sensitive to cultures, including your own. You once fit in, now you identify (kind of) with many cultures. You recognise new perspectives, and things that seemed acceptable before now seem unacceptable, and some of your new identity will not be accepted at home. You will never truly fit into your own home culture again unless you can merge those new ideas into your old life. This may prove to be a difficult experience but it is possible.

Give it time, and recognise that these changes are good. They will help you experience a life above the norms, a truer sense of self and how you want to live. You’ll find new fulfillment in your life and unlock new ways of living for you.

And then you’ll want to do it all again.

 

Penny

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