Am I Just a Stranger in a Strange Land Now?

A man standing on a cliff at sunset
Posted: 04/19/2012 | April 19th, 2012

We travel around the world to seek foreign lands, but sometimes after returning home, we find out that home is the real foreign land. After three weeks of being back in America, I feel like I am a stranger in a strange land. America has changed. There’s something different about it this time around.

I’ve been home before. I spent the summer of 2010 in New York City, and I circle home every so often to visit my parents. I’m over the culture shock.

When I told people in Asia I was heading home, they asked me if I was nervous or afraid about being able to adjust. “No, I’ve been home before,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”

But then I came home and realized that while I didn’t have any “culture shock,” something was different. I had changed. America seemed to have changed too. The pulse of the country was different.

There’s more crap on TV. The country seems more superficial. (Why is everything a Real Housewives of… show?)

Food portions seem to be even larger than before.

Kids seem much more cruel these days. People don’t seem as polite or nice to each other anymore.

The nation is far more divided. Every issue is blown out proportion and is a test for your politics: right, left, Tea Party, etc.

All in all, to me, it just feels different here now.

Then again, maybe America was always like this, and I just never noticed before. Maybe I always spent so much time on trips home seeing new places and catching up with friends that I never stopped and took stock of the home I took for granted.

Or maybe what I finally noticed is that I’ve changed. They say travel changes you — but I’ve never noticed it. Since you’re with yourself everyday, you never really see changes in your personality. They just become part of you and seem like second nature. It’s not like when you go on a diet or take drastic action. Changes on the road are slow and happen over time, and you just feel as though you were always this way.

I think being back has made me finally realize that I’ve changed.

And that somehow I don’t fit here anymore.

You know when you get a feeling that something is missing, but you just can’t put your finger on it? That’s the feeling I have now.

There’s something about being in America (and not just my parents’ house in the suburbs; I’ve had this feeling since touching down in Las Vegas) that’s making me feel uneasy.

I feel less connected to the rest of the world. I feel like I’m living in a bubble. That all the events happening outside of America aren’t even registering here. It’s like I can’t get anywhere whenever I want. It’s like I’m cut off from the world.

I spent the last few months of my trip in Cambodia while I wrote my book. But even there, in one place, I felt like the world was connected to me. That at any given moment, I could go anywhere or do anything. I don’t feel that here. I feel like the outside world is more than just a flight or bus ride away. That to get out I have to break free of this invisible barrier that doesn’t exist overseas.

On the other hand, maybe I’m just full of shit. Part of me feels like I only “feel” this way because I want to feel this way. Maybe by looking for a problem, I’m unconsciously trying to justify a desire not to settle down and find an excuse. Maybe this is just my inner self wrestling over the realization that my backpacking, nomad days are over. After all, transitions can be tough.

I don’t know. I’m just thinking out loud. Something is different this time around. I can’t put my finger on it or know if it will last forever, but something has changed, and only time will tell if this feeling is just a temporary unease over changing my life or something more permanent.

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