Returning to America after four years in Europe

Friday, May 20, 2005


I'm still amazed that one can wake up in Amsterdam and go to bed in Los Angeles. Though I was awake for about 24 hours, I did just that yesterday.

After saying some painful goodbyes, I had a direct flight to LA. My dad and stepmom collected me from the airport and we went straight to Marina del Rey for lunch. We sat outside, overlooking the sailboats and enjoying the sunshine. In the evening, we went for dinner at a little French place in the Farmer's Market. At both restaurants, we enjoyed fantastic wine, food and service.

It feels good - albeit surreal - to be back. The surreal bit comes from me having to remind myself that this was a one-way trip. I can't get my head around it exactly so I'm working on taking it one day at a time.

But the moments, so far, have been sweet. Eating and drinking well, being with my family, reading the newspaper, squeezing fresh juice this morning, marveling at the amazing selection of food at the Farmer's Market - the first days in a new place are often lovely. Culture trainers commonly refer to this as the 'honeymoon' period - when you are enchanted by the newness of a place.

It's strange to come home but still experience it as refreshing and new.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Priceless America

My friend Travis recently helped me put into perspective what coming home means. He writes:

Jet lag: 3 days
Culture lag: 6 months
Ability to get an In-n-Out burger at 11 p.m. any day of the week: Priceless

Monday, May 16, 2005

Life for Sale

Monday morning and I sit in a nearly empty 5-bedroom apartment. Two chairs, a small couch and a table are all that remain.

Just three days ago, it was packed with tables, carpets, kitchen wares and the dozens of other knick knacks one inevitably assembles to make a home.

In between then and now, I've opened my door to a steady stream of neighbors who paid garage sale prices for just about anything they laid their eyes on. The 'moving sale' was a new concept to my mostly Dutch neighbors. Luckily, it appealed to their frugle nature.

The final piece went last night around 9 when my neighbor from Nairobi came to pick up a couch she wanted. I also offered her the ficus plant I still had.

"It is lovely," she said, "how much?"

Nothing for a good home. Carrying it out, she explained that it needed more soil and she would plant it in a bigger pot.

So while the gal in #88 will tend to the plant, Anuk in #36 has some funky new chairs for her balcony.

Throughout this building in the center of Holland, the things that made up my life here will play a new role.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Final Daze

I'm determined to enjoy my final days in Europe as much as possible. So I've been playing tourist recently.

On Thursday afternoon, we drove down to Antwerp for a look around. I'd never really been there - even though it's only 90 minutes by car south. A charming little city in northern Belgium, Antwerp’s impressive cathedrals and charming squares gave me that "I'm in a new city" buzz. We had a walk around, went for dinner (I had mussels - when in Rome, right?) and came home. I'm going to miss being able to go to a foreign country just for dinner.

And after more than two years of living here, I finally visited the Keukenhof for the first time yesterday. This massive tulip exhibition is only open two months a year - and still attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world. It's no wonder - it is an absolutely stunning display of horticulture. Even Simon was impressed.

To see for yourself, visit www.keukenhof.nl - and do try to visit the Netherlands when the Keukenhof is open.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Going home: the worst culture shock of all

Jeff Booth, editor of Student Traveler, recently repatriated to the United States after living in Italy for two years. In his Red Eye column, Booth chronicles some of his initial impressions.

"Returning to the States has upset me with my new perspective, and made other aspects (no place else on Earth is as wonderfully diverse) comfortable and welcoming. That’s what travel is supposed to go – give one new glasses to see both the exotic and the familiar in fresh light. That light can be a bit harsh and glaring at times. Like whenever I have to walk into a Walmart. But the same critical eye I had for corrupt Italian politics and quaint Swiss villages I’m turning back on the country I’m from."

Read the full column here:

  • Red Eye, Student Traveler, May 2005

  • Tuesday, May 03, 2005

    Take it or leave it

    A lot of my time these days is spent putting things in one of two stacks - taking or leaving. Every item is a decision - a lot of which are rather easy. Photo albums? Taking. Handheld blender? Leaving. Moulin Rouge poster in Czech? Taking. Paperback of "Sophie’s Choice"? Leaving.

    But then there are the items that have little more than sentimental value. For example, I've got these three green ceramic frogs given to me at a market in Amsterdam one spring day last year by a Persian man. I'm still not sure why he felt compelled to extend this present to me as the market closed for the day. But each one has this quirky expressions on its face and the trio have sat on my desk ever since, occasionally making me giggle and always reminding me of the kindness of strangers and the surreal moments of travel.

    In the
    foyer, I have another ceramic piece. It is of the coat of arms of Most, a region in north Bohemia which has the highest unemployment in the Czech Republic. In some parts of the region, joblessness is as high as 45 percent. The placard was given to me by the head of the local labor office when I was there in 2001 writing about the issue. Whenever I look at it, I think about the people who have suffered more than they have gained as a result of the end of communism.

    Maybe some expats bring home fine crystal or the local tapestry from their time abroad. This one, it seems, is coming back with little frogs and a coat of arms from a place no tourist in their right mind would ever visit.

    These are the souvenirs I will take with me as one adventure ends and a new one begins.

    Sunday, May 01, 2005

    Top 10 Things I Learned in Europe

    As I begin to pack up my life in Europe, I wanted to take a little time to reflect on the cultural insights and new perspectives I've gained since arriving in March, 2001. I've managed to whittle it down to this Top 10 List of things I have learned in Europe.

    10. The difference between Slovakia and Slovenia.

    9. Beer brings people together.

    8. People speak English just about everywhere - expect at the train station in Krakow.

    7. Exposing nipples on television does not appear to cause a breakdown in the moral fabric of society.

    6. Eurotrash: it exists.

    5. Beer has fewer calories than orange juice.

    4. Patriotism and multilateralism are not mutually exclusive.

    3. Americans smoking pot in Amsterdam can be just as offensive as Germans donning shorts in Los Angeles.

    2. Swans can fly.

    1. The worst travel experiences make the best stories.