Today is my fourth day back in the office, and as stricken with (mostly mock) horror as I was to see the amount of snow that had fallen in the two weeks while I was in America, it definitely feels good to be in Aomori again. Don’t get me wrong; I loved being home and I loved every minute I spent with friends and family.
My trip started off on a fantastic note. When you fly home from Japan at the end of December, there’s basically a fifty-fifty shot that you’ll end up next to a JET (or a teacher in another foreign language program). This was no exception. Another girl from my prefecture was on the same flight, and we a nice little powwow with three other teachers heading home for the holidays. For us, it’s easy enough to pick out our brethren from an airport crowd. From then on, it’s time to just trade stories about antics in and out of the classroom until boarding time. On the plane, it was even better. I ended up next to an (extremely cute) ALT who teaches in Fukushima, and that made the eleven hour flight basically heaven. I love it when you find “single serving” friends on airplanes that you can share genuine conversation with, rather than the usual “Where are you going? Why? Where are you from? What do you do?” fodder.
But America…yeesh, you are nuts. Japan has definitely spoiled me in many ways in the past year and a half. It was roughly three minutes into my layover at O’Hare that I realized that I wasn’t in Aomori/Kansas anymore. Narita is quiet, organized, and polite. O’Hare? Not so much. People screeching “Get out of the way!” and the barista at Starbucks informing me in her best Regina George voice “Ummm, yeah, we don’t ever put whipped cream on chai lattes…” had me looking like a deer in headlights. I’d gotten to taking the courtesy and service in Japan for granted.
Unexpectedly, I got really choked up once we landed in DC. My best friend, Mallory, was picking me up at the airport, and it was all I could do not to bowl over my fellow passengers in an effort to exit the plane more quickly. I was like a shark that smells blood, only I was sensing that an acquaintance from my “past” life was in the vicinity. We absolutely reenacted the cheesy airport reunion scene you see in so many movies: I dropped my bag a few paces from my friend, threw myself into her arms, and then commenced to sob with relief, happiness, and exhaustion onto her shoulder (while she was doing the same) for several minutes.
In my post about what I was most looking forward to doing in America, I’d mentioned eating at Olives & Peppers, a tiny Italian eatery near my house. Thankfully, my family was all too happy to accommodate my obsession, so my first meal home was an awesome medley of all of my favorite dishes. Sadly though, that marked the descent of my healthy eating habits into utter oblivion. Irk number two about America: portion sizes. While in the vicinity of delicious and unhealthy food, my willpower, which Japan had honed so finely, absolutely evaporated. I ate out a lot while at home, admittedly, and my dietary woes were compounded by the fact that my nightly yoga regimen disappeared. And around the four-day mark, I started feeling a lot more sluggish than usual. As much as I’d like to just chalk that up to jet lag, I know it was also largely due to the massive amount of sugar, fat, and sodium I was ingesting. As one of my friends so charmingly put it, I had to be on the Homer Simpson diet while in America: if, after you rub a piece of food on a paper and the paper isn’t translucent from the amount of grease left behind, find another food to eat. The last meal I ate was pasta primavera. I’d ordered it because, hey, vegetables are in it. Can’t be too unhealthy, especially with a “light” garlic sauce. Ha. No. Fittingly enough, it was literally swimming in butter.
That being said, food was definitely one of the highlights of being home. I even got to swing by Upper Crust, a tiny Italian restaurant (Can you find the running theme in my favorite foods?) within walking distance of my alma mater of which my friends and I were regulars during our last year of college. I’d forgotten how nice it is to order off a menu on which you can read every single item.
And I’d missed Starbucks chai lattes, pretzels, Moe’s tortilla chips, flavored coffee creamer, affordable fruit, and dozens of other things that I happily shoved down my throat. And going to Costco?! I have never been happier to gorge myself on free samples and tell myself that it’s a balanced lunch. Yes, there’s a Costco in Japan, but it’s in Tokyo, and from what I’ve heard, it doesn’t compare to the real thing. Plus, I stuffed my suitcases to their max capacity with as much American/Western food as I could. My pantry and I are happy, happy campers. (Until I run out of peanut butter, that is.)
But the absolute best part of coming home was seeing friends and family. Obviously. When you live so far away, it’s easy to forget what it feels like to hug your mum and dad, to play with your dogs, to banter with your sisters, and simply be at home. (And to have to sleep on the living room couch since you no longer have a room there. Not that I’m bitter; little sister Mani had offered up my old room.)
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see everyone that I wanted to, including my college roommate. That’s the pitfall of only going home for a short period of time; it turns into a race against time to see everyone you mean to, and inevitably someone gets left off the list.
Though some things had inevitably changed and some details were forgotten, it was surprisingly easy to sink back into old habits and rhythms. I got a certain gleeful joy out of seeing and doing things that I hadn’t really expected to encounter again – at least not in the near future. Trekking around Washington & Jefferson’s campus was at the top of that list, especially because I had rendezvouses friends and professors that I hadn’t seen since graduation. As much as I love my life in Japan, it was comforting beyond belief to trade “Remember when…?” stories with old friends.
Though I wasn’t necessarily happy to leave home in Mars, I was definitely happy to come home to Aomori. Every day home reinforced just how lucky I am to have friends and family who support me from seven thousand miles away. It made me remember that even though leaving home can be the toughest thing you can ever do, there’s always a future homecoming to bookend that experience.