Before I came to South Africa, I understood that Lumos is supposed to be the bridge between who one is now and who their future self will be, but here I am, 6 months later, and I understand now that what lies on that bridge is what is most important.
Transitioning back into American culture has been harder than I expected. I knew about reverse culture shock, and I had experienced it after the first time I went to South Africa and Tanzania for study abroad. So, the month leading up to my departure from SA I made sure to begin preparing myself for my return to the States. I made sure my housing in the States was set up, I had a planned a “rest schedule” for the first two weeks when I returned, I arranged who was picking me up from the airport, I visited all my favorite places in Cape Town “one last time,” I took time to reflect on my life in South Africa, I said all my goodbyes, and I took time to sit and feel the pain of leaving such an incredible place. I thought because I did all of that, that there was no way my transition was going to be too difficult. However, I was wrong.
It is just hard. It is hard to go from living in a different country, a different culture, to living in a completely different one. Specifically, it’s hard going from a culture that values relationships, empathy, and authenticity, to a culture that values success, money, and tangible achievements. Ubuntu culture is so closely aligned with my own personal morals and values, that I felt so peaceful, at home in South Africa. When I got back to the States, it looked like a place I had lived before, but it felt as if I had no idea how to interact with people or with society. Things seemed and looked normal, but nothing felt normal. Still, nothing feels normal, and it is hard.
It’s almost like doing a puzzle. One of those 1000 piece puzzles. You’ve worked on the puzzle for a while so you pretty much got the whole thing put together. You’re on your last piece of the puzzle. You know what the puzzle piece your missing is because it’s the only one left. You grab it. When you go to put the piece in that perfectly carved out spot for it, and it doesn’t fit. You’re confused. You have done this puzzle before, you know this piece fits right there. Yet, it doesn’t, it is shaped just ever so slightly differently, and it no longer fits into the puzzle. Your choice is to either try and cram it into the open spot by folding it and scrunching it, or you can just leave it out.
If you can’t tell, in that metaphor I am the puzzle piece. I left the States as this piece in an incredible life filled with wonderful people, a great job, and fun times. I came back to the States as still the same person, but as someone who has grown tremendously both personally and professionally. The way I see and interact with the world around me is different. So, when I came back, the puzzle was still laid out, and everyone, including myself, tried to fit me in that last open spot. Yet, I am no longer that same shape I was when I left. So what do I do now? Where do I belong now? In a whole new puzzle box? Or do I need to learn how to reshape back into this puzzle?
While life is not really a 1000 piece puzzle, it does ring true that I am not the same person that left in January, and I don’t want to be that same person either. I have grown, I have changed, and I have become a better version of myself in order to serve others to the best of my ability. So even though most people won’t understand why I don’t fit in the puzzle anymore, or maybe they’ll feel awkward because I don’t fully fit in the puzzle, I am truly glad that I have come back as different shaped piece.
After spending time ignoring difficult feelings, I finally recognized that I need to take time to feel the difficult feelings. I need to let myself grieve the ending of my Lumos journey, I need to accept that the close friendships I had made might change and shift as now I live far away, and I need to let myself redefine what it means to me to live and be a social worker in America. But I know I want to keep who I grew to be in South Africa still alive. The question is, what new parts of me do I want to make sure I continue to bring to my life in the States? And how will I do so?
I want to continue:
-To be my complete authentic self in every situation, no matter who is around.
-To extend a helping hand to someone in need, even when it might cause me be late to my plans.
-To dance like no one is watching in all places, in my house, at the grocery store, anywhere, because I find endless joy in it.
-To ask intentional questions to give people space to tell part of their story. Not just to friends, but each and every person I talk to.
-To put less emphasis on the outcome, and put more emphasis on finding creative ways to work.
-To eat lots and lots of curry.
-To seek out communities filled with people who are different from me in a multitude of ways.
-To smile at least 10 times a day, even if I have to find a reason to.
-To intentionally plan after work activities because that is how we refuel in order to serve deeply.
-To spend less time with technology, and more time in nature and with others.
-To admit when I made a mistake and when I am wrong, and then ask for forgiveness and for help to be better.
-To spend time seeking joy every single day.
-To endlessly love those around me no matter who they are, what their circumstance, what their opinions are, or even if I don’t know them. Love them because they exist.
How will I continue to do all of these? Frankly, I don’t know. My hope is that they have become natural at this point. I mean, by the time I left South Africa they felt natural? But there is just something about the American culture that creates a barrier to continue to do all these things. However, I am working to become more aware of what those barriers are that exist in my mind that I believe to be specific to American culture. While there is some truth that living in a society which largely values success over relationships does create barriers to continue to be and do all of those things, but I can’t change that. What I can change, is how I dedicate myself to continue to be the person I have grown to be.
Words cannot describe how grateful I am to be a Lumos Traveler. Thank you to everyone who has read, followed along, and supported me through it all. I will never forget my time learning and growing as a social worker and as a person at School of Hope and in my communities in South Africa. I truly do feel like a different person. The same person, but one that views the world from a much wider, more inclusive, and endlessly compassionate place. Thank you Lumos. Thank you for being the bridge from who I was to who I continue to grow to be.