America, Inside My Head

Re-entry High

11 Comments 04 April 2013

american flag

America is blurry…

I rub my eyes, and try to refocus but everything still seems blurry and unfamiliar. I feel like I’m removed from the scene in front of me observing as if it’s a television sitcom. I just got off an 11 hour flight from Buenos Aires and I’m still in that long haul flight fog. I look around the crowded train of commuters and my senses are on high alert. I’m agitated and anxious – like the border collie sheep herder dogs I just left in Patagonia when they are around a flock and observing their every move.

I’m on the train, heading from Newark into NYC and I’m following the commuter’s every move around me – observing, thinking, judging. Signs are everywhere. Exit signs, what you do in case of emergency, special needs seating signs, legal signs stating the train workers rights, rules about who you must listen to, and what numbers to call in case you see something suspicious. Signs seem to take up every inch of train wall space. I wonder if the commuters even notice the signs. Probably not. When you are ‘in’ it you never see it.

The commuters around me bundle up in their winter coats and have headphones in their ears blocking out all of the noise around them. But I can’t block out the noise because the first day I arrive back in the US after being gone for months I’m bombarded by my own culture. And the crazy thing it’s that I love this feeling. It’s like being on ecstasy where your senses are all heightened and all you want to do is watch, smell, feel, and hear.

I arrive in Penn station and fixate on all of the eating places. So many places to choose from. Each one with bright lights and big colorful signs trying to outdo each other and grab the attention of the desensitized commuters. The commuters keep walking as if they are on autopilot – they have a routine to follow. But right now I have no routine so the signs grab my attention and for a moment I feel like I’m in Vegas being assaulted with glitz. Somehow I make it to the subway without gambling my money away on a Krispie Kreme and coffee – but don’t think I’m not tempted.

I hear everything. It started as soon as I got off the plane as if someone just turned up the volume in my brain. In fact I feel like I have super human hearing able to pick up and understand conversations far away from where I am sitting on the subway. Maybe I am superwoman – or maybe I just desperately need sleep. I hear them because for the first time in 2 1/2 months I understand them. My white noise of Spanish is gone. I’m in the world of English again – amazed at the personal things that people discuss in public.

But I myself am not ready to talk. I’m still in observation mode voraciously reading every English sign around me just because I can. When I have to exchange niceties with the commuters the words “si” and “gracious” come out instinctively. Argentina soaked into me more than I thought.

I wonder if anyone in this subway car has been to Chile or Argentina. I think about the mountains that I saw yesterday. Or was it today? It is at this moment I am struck by the strangeness of my life – my nomadic life. There are moments I think I miss routine and stability and commuting, but when confronted with it back on the NYC subway I realize that indeed I don’t.

I exit the subway car and things are becoming clearer, the signs are fading from my vision, the noise is dying down a bit, and the concept of familiar strikes me. The joyous re-entry high is disappearing – I can feel it slip away as I walk up the stairs out of the subway in Washington Heights. I wonder how I can get another fix. But I know that it’s not that easy – it means getting on another plane and leaving for months again. It’s early in NYC, but in my jetlag world it’s mid morning and my brain is now engaging again. I walk up the street dodging people who are in the middle of their routine. And then I see it – another sign.

spanish sign

Wait a minute…

But this one is in Spanish and it sends my mind spinning down a rabbit hole…where am I again?


Have you ever been away from your home culture for months?  Do you like the ‘high’ of re-entry?

Your Comments

11 Comments so far

  1. Amber says:

    Love this post. Interesting about the McD’s sign. I had something similar at Miami airport after 3 months in Central America. I didn’t have to use my Spanish anymore – until the TSA agent spoke to me in Spanish and I wondered what country I was in!

  2. kristi says:

    This post reminds me of the scene in The Beach when Leonardo’s and Tilda’s characters return to Thailand after being on the island. He didn’t have this affect, but it was a similar experience watching that movie and reading this post.

    I get that every time I come back from England. I feel like I should be able to just order a pie whenever I want. I’m tired. I’m dazed. I’m yearning to be back. I don’t want to tip. I don’t know how to tip. I want to walk up to table and just sit down. But then I remember the good things about America and its back to normal.

  3. Megan says:


    I remember coming back from a month-long trip to Bulgaria and being overwhelmed.

    I had loved the “white noise” of Bulgarian being spoken around me. Upon returning, I was offended that I had to hear (and understand) the conversations of everyone speaking English around me. Conversations about their boyfriends and girlfriends, the latest drama at work, their babies, everything – forced into my ears and my brain. What an intrusion into my own little world! I remember being agitated and wondering how I’d never noticed before.

    I remember being overwhelmed by the vast amounts of money that Americans spend on our transportation systems. Such quality and beauty. It seemed simultaneously wasteful and yet so beautiful. Smooth roads, clean & comfortable public transportation – all stark reminders of the differences between where I’d been and where I was.

    I loved the high and the confusion and the shock of returning home. Looking forward to my next dose in July, when I return from a 3-week trip to central Asia.

  4. Glad you arrived home safe and sound. I have never been away for a long time but I still get the same feeling when I return from a different environment. It is like your feet are in two countries.You described it so well.

  5. Kaleb says:

    Jajajajaja Nuevo Café! O y con leche!!! LOL

  6. Ryan says:

    Yes, I remember this feeling well when I have been away not driving. I get behind the wheel and it just feels very wrong. I do miss the mass transit of other countries.

  7. Jessica says:

    This is interesting – I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced a proper re-entry high. If anything I’m always surprised that it doesn’t matter how long I’ve been gone, as soon as I’m back in the middle of North American culture again, it feels like I never left at all.

  8. Diana says:

    I’ve been home two and a half weeks (after being gone for three months), and the first couple of days were a high. My own bed, the running water, the hugs and smiles of loved ones. I agree that ‘when you’re in it, you can’t see it’. I realize how wasteful some of the things we do in America are (driving, electricity use, etc…), and yet, how do I shift a whole culture?? My heart and my brain are often in other places, half here and yet half in a different experience, with different people. I want to share, and am eager to talk, but how do you sum up 12 weeks of travel with the neverending ‘how was your trip’ question?? I want to say, did you read the blogs, did you see the pictures? I feel somehow like people want to hitchhike on the effort it takes to be in the midst of the journey, and, at the same time I invited them to hitchhike. The journey was so much more because I shared it virtually, and yet virtual is not the same as ‘in vivo’, in real life…

    More than maybe what you were looking for–to sum up, yes, I like the high of re-entry, and yet it also has some wacky lows for me :).

  9. Emily says:

    My husband and I have been traveling full-time for six years, and three of those years have been on a sailboat in Mexico.

    When we left our boat in Puerto Chiapas last spring and flew “home” for a few months we were in total shock. We stood in front of the cold water drinking fountain in the airport and just stared — what a miraculous invention! Then we hopped in an airport shuttle van and couldn’t believe that it had cushions on the seats and air conditioning and only 6 people in it instead of 21 or 23 people crammed in on each other’s laps.

    And then the trip to the supermarket. Holy mackerel!! I took photos of the produce department. Our friends thought we were nuts, but we’ve got the photos to prove it!!!

    The abundance we used to take for granted in our old workaday lives is truly astonishing… Not to mention being able to take a hot shower and let the water run as long as we like (1-gallon showers are the norm on a cruising sailboat!!).

    Yes, I have been away from my home culture for months and been truly astonished by its wealth and luxury when I returned to it.

  10. Barbara says:

    I’ve never been away from home for that length of time so was interesting to read this post about your feelings. I find that whenever we do travel abroad I always feel as if I want to move there. That is until I get back home and realize just how set I am in my ways of life! There’s no place like home!

  11. Being jet lagged and coming home is such a strange feeling. I really noticed the culture shock of Canada when we arrived home after 13 months of SE Asia and India.

    All of the rules and restrictions are what got to us most…waiting for a light to change before crossing the street was a big one, and the costs of everything were so overwhelmingly high (of course, compared to SE Asia), we were just totally in reverse culture shock. I think we didn’t get out of it until about 2 months of being home!

    It definitely felt like we had been away forever…

    Cheers for the post!

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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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Where am I and Where am I going?

Minnesota/Wisconsin -> Nebraska

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