Planning to Move Planets: Thoughts on Returning to the US

Monday, July 30, 2012

One friend of mine described it as "cultureshock" to come back home after being abroad for an extended period of time. And, I must admit, I've got a mix of feelings about returning to the States. Here are some of my thoughts.

While here, I've been exploring and understanding my identity as an American more and more. Because Asian Americans are usually pigeonholed as the "perpetual foreigner," for a long time I held some sort of internalized racism that actually believed that. Though not entirely and not all the time, I was loathe to accept my American-ness in Bengali settings even as I was angered when other non-Asian people asked me "where I'm from." Being caught between those two extremes - an expert on foreign culture/a foreigner yourself and a bona fide American citizen - came into stark relief when I went abroad. I can't speak Bengali very well and I have a lot of American habits (e.g. apologizing and thanking too much), and now I was an 'expert' on American culture.

But I think it needs to be said that we as Americans have some responsibilities and unique knowledge about our own selves. For myself, one of those responsibilities will be to fully embrace my American identity without completely getting rid of my cultural heritage.

Another one will be appreciating and acknowledging the conveniences that I have been privileged with. I talked about Orientalism before and how we cannot assume the East/global South to be "backward" and have nothing of value until they "catch up" with the West. However, it is true for some people (myself included) that living in the US is easier. No cockroaches. Warm running water whenever you want. Clean streets. Food that doesn't have rocks/shards of bone to pick out of your teeth. We're spoiled rotten in some ways and we don't even know it (though obviously I'm speaking of the privileged classes).

That being said, I'm definitely going to miss all the spoiling I get here by my family and the cultural livelihood that I can slip right into. Things are just cohesive here in a way that's very different from the battle to establish identity that I feel I fight every day when in the US. Who am I? Well, when I'm here, some part of that question is answered. And it's soothing to the soul.

But I know it can't last. And it shouldn't. I have battles to fight at home - which, ultimately, is where I can do the most good. That was a pretty major recognition of mine while here: I am best equipped to help people and fulfill my potential in the United States. I know the systems and how to participate in/subvert them. I don't have to start from scratch, which has been very uncomfortable here (just look at my post about learning with humility). Ultimately, I need to go home.

So how do I feel about leaving? Mixed. But as I round out my last week here, I am definitely thinking about all the ways in which I have learned more about myself in these brief few months than I could have in several years of time. And I'm glad that I get to come home with that new knowledge and work towards seeking my future in a way that benefits not only me, but the others around me. So, let's begin.