Misplaced

When you hear the word “misplaced” it brings to mind an object being lost, set down in an area where it doesn’t belong, and then cannot be found again. But “misplaced” also has another definition: inappropriate for the situation. Right now, on March 2nd and still sitting in my house in Minnesota, I could not feel more “misplaced,” in both senses of the word.

You see, logically, I should feel more comfortable in the United States than I did in Buenos Aires. After all, I’ve grown up in Apple Valley, I attend college at Madison, and I’ve visited La Crosse (where my best friend goes to school) more than a half dozen times. Plus, in all of these places, I’m surrounded by the “people who know me”: my family and friends, whom “I know well” too. And here, the U.S. culture is something I grew up with, so I should “find no surprises” in the ways we interact, eat or dress, for example.

With this mindset fueling my decision-making process about my return to Buenos Aires, I decided to opt for a “compromise plan”: spending a week in Madison, a week in La Crosse (visiting my best friend) and a week at home instead of going back to Buenos Aires early and traveling as originally planned (see upcoming post “Tough Decisions”).  At the time, staying in the United States for a while, with time to relax with my family, visit my friends (especially my friends who will be graduating this semester) and take a much-needed break from Buenos Aires seemed like the perfect option. I was completely overwhelmed at the thought of ever returning to Argentina, let alone in a few short months. And while I was disappointed to cut my traveling time short, I knew that if I pushed myself too hard I might regret my decision to have gone back to Buenos Aires.

But now, three months later, I could not feel more misplaced. It started in Madison. The first couple of days back at UW were great-I stayed with my good friend Arielle, met the new freshman on my sailing team, and marveled at the snow-covered campus. But slowly, I felt an uncomfortable feeling creeping-in: the one saying I should be in class or I should be traveling in Argentina; anything but hanging around with my friends, spending mornings in coffee shops, and going for excessively-long runs. My friends were certainly supportive and welcoming in Madison, but I found it hard to talk to them about Argentina. And my “closed book” attitude was not always well received. I found myself being moody, difficult, aloof, quiet, overwhelmingly tired and sometimes just wanting to be alone. I wrestled with the fact that I needed to reconnect with almost all of my friends: a result of me pushing everyone away when I was struggling during my last few months in Buenos Aires. This disconnect with the people I had so longingly yearned to see made me feel even more lost and misplaced.

And that’s what the two definitions of “misplaced” are missing: the shame that comes along with it.  I felt physically lost in my “second home” of Madison: set down in a sea of college students while I was on “summer” break in the middle of winter and not taking classes. Along with this, I also felt that my presence was inappropriate: that I was distracting friends from homework and “bumming” while they were busy studying for tests. But more than anything I felt the shame and guilt of struggling with “readjustment”: of feeling misunderstood and of “not acting like myself.”

Now that I’m back in Apple Valley, with only a 13-hour plane ride separating me from the bustling, Spanish-speaking, 70-degrees-and-sunny metropolis of Buenos Aires, I still feel misplaced. Today I’m leaving for another country, another season (it’s summer turning into fall right now), will be speaking another language and living in a new apartment. I feel torn. On the one hand, I could not be more anxious for school to start and I’m a excited at the thought of giving Buenos Aires another shot, getting to travel again, and hopefully making new friends. At the same time, I feel as if the goodbye will be less ceremonious than the first. I lack the innocent and unbridled enthusiasm I had the first time. Now, I know what I’m in for, and I can’t help but feel a little bit of nervousness at the thought of going away again. It’s a fear of having to reconnect again and of changing even more when I’m away.

But with all of these uncomfortable feelings of being “misplaced,” of the feelings of regret at missing out on traveling, I know that staying in the US has been a valuable experience in its own rite. My extended stay has made me feel more ready for the challenges of studying abroad again. I’ve gone through “readjustment shock” for the past three months, and I know that experience will be valuable when I come home for good. I’ve learned the pangs of having to reconnect to friends, and I feel lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to try to repair relationships in person. It was so easy to be away and not have it dawn on me that if I didn’t send my friends messages or skype with them, our friendship wouldn’t be the same as when I left. In the end, perhaps my decision to stay in the US worked out for the best.

With my new knowledge in hand, I know I can’t stay in the United States like this forever. My constant drive to be busy and my “go-getter attitude” (according to my roommate Alicia J) have made me feel ashamed to still be on break. And while I’ve come to realize that a little relaxation is not only good, but necessary, I finally feel that Monday, and the start of a new semester, cannot come soon enough.

It’s time for this misplaced traveler to be found.

From your rediscovered wanderer,

Jessica