The American Aftermath

“Those days might be gone

But I hear it LOUDER THAN EVER.

-Louder Than Ever by Daughtry.

It’s crazy to think I returned from the USA over four months ago now. Everything that happened out there still seems like yesterday to me. I miss my American friends more than time would ever allow me to convey in actions and words. I’d like to say that summer came and went. But it dragged. A very long four months, five months out of full time education.  I had three friends (Maddie, Jana and Anthony) that I made in the USA come and visit me in the summer which I really appreciated. It was so wonderful to show them around the beauty that is Britain and introduce them to the infamous characters of my stories, known as my friends.

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A Season of Change.

After a month or so of being back in my native country, reverse culture shock really took its toll on me. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, I guess I should blame myself if anyone since I was the one that made these concrete attachments to people I wouldn’t be able to hug again for a really long time. I became introverted in my own routine, desperately hoping that time would heal the gap in my chest. I’d go to work and then come home and watch Netflix and sometimes going to the gym. It’s hard to explain to people that haven’t lived in another country before but in all honesty, I was embarrassed about the way I was feeling. I didn’t ignore my friends or refuse to hang out with them though, I might add. There’s a stark difference between needing to be alone and being rude. I spent a lot of time in my bed but I wouldn’t say that was because I was depressed. I always climb into my bed wherever I am and sit there. It’s a comfort zone for me because it keeps me warm and not many things make me more miserable than being cold. Jealous isn’t the correct adjective here but although I was happy to see the friendships I’d created between various friends bloom into genuinely beautiful connections, I couldn’t help but feel sad. I wouldn’t be able to join in or hang out with them and it left me with a hollow feeling of sorrow in my chest. Should I talk to a doctor? Was this normal?

Being stuck in the endless emptiness was unbearable, I was almost isolated by my adventures and experiences of my time abroad. I tried to bridge the gap by sending my friends inexpensive British themed parcels. Everywhere I went I’d see something I wanted to send to Taylor and Madison. It was a chance to show them snippets of my culture and lifestyle. I enjoyed doing it. I like making people happy. What’s the point in working for a living if you can’t enjoy it every once in a while? But even as September rolled around, I just couldn’t shake the feeling I was having. I felt like I had one leg on each side of the Atlantic but didn’t belong to either side. Again it wasn’t anyone’s fault. I was stuck in an emotion, moment, time and I hoped with all my mite that being back at Keele would allow the ‘exit wounds’ (https://lisalaceberrie07.wordpress.com/2014/12/27/exit-wounds-i-love-how-it-hurts/) to scab over and heal. People told me my friendships across the pond would simmer down with time and some did, but the ones that mattered stayed intact. I made some new friends in my hometown via social media and really enjoyed hanging around the employees of my dad’s business. Katrina has a season ticket at Leicester too so game day became more fun texting each other throughout the game and then waiting with our families at the end to meet the players. I would talk online a lot with Taylor and Erin and it was cathartic at the best of times. I began to work on myself physically by seeking physiotherapy for the existing problems in my shoulder and knee. I later learned that I also had problems in my Achilles Tendons so I decided to learn what it was like to be without a gym membership after seven years of having one.

Back in the Keele Bubble.

I was really excited to get back to Keele. My ongoing and continually growing health problems had taken a serious hacking on my confidence and it didn’t matter how may ‘likes’ a selfie would attain or the matches I got on tinder, my confidence tree was in need of TLC and I needed to find a sense of purpose immediately; not to mention an answer to the million pound question ‘what happens after Keele?’ Initially it was great being back. I was so excited to see all these people again from first year and having people shout happily “OMG ITS LISA BERRIE!” in the student union on nights out or come up to me like “you’re the American Lisa Berrie aren’t you? I’ve been dying to meet you, I follow you on Instagram” gave my confidence tree a huge chunk of nourishment. Being back at Keele gave me a homely and familiar feel but there were many moments where I was constantly reminded of my absence from second year. Everyone had new friends and although I’ve no problem talking to people, slotting back in was easier said than done. Still I couldn’t shake the feeling. After I’d talked to people about my time in the USA, I had nothing new to say. I was boring. I spent a lot of time with Marcus and although he admitted he didn’t understand how I felt, he captured it perfectly when he said “it must be hard though, those people were like your friends and family out there since you didn’t have a family out there.” That’s exactly it I thought, a double whammy of loss in some respects.

I knew I’d let my reverse culture shock go on long enough when one day Radhika said “I haven’t seen you all week and we live in the same house.” To her credit, she helped me get a job as an English tutor which helped lift my confidence because I had to refresh my social skills and have confidence in what I was saying. Seeing my students thrive in front of me gave me an intangibly great feeling of self-worth.

After a few weeks the study abroad office held a workshop for returning study abroad students on reverse culture shock. They described everything I’d been feeling as normal and it was after this that I felt able to tell Hannah about how I’d been feeling. I’d been snowed under with my readings because I made the point of also taking notes but the mania of third year was taking its toll. My housemates are doing degrees in business and astrophysics and when they sat and watched TV for hours on end, I’d get annoyed because I always had so much to do and stress about but they were always calm and had no problems getting their work done. Undoubtedly I was letting anxiety get the better of me because Rad would tell me that I needed to “calm down” and that I “worry about unnecessary things.”

Leaping with Faith.

Hannah really helped me take a step out the grey area. I went to a white t-shirt social she was throwing with the Keele International Society and when I got there she was the only person I knew. As she saw me looking anxious she took my face in my hands and said “you’re more sociable than you think Berrie. Come on, I’ll introduce you to some people.” It was like a child’s first day at school. I didn’t want to leave Hannah because I knew her so well but eventually after talking to new people and writing on their t-shirts and a couple of pints later, I went up to people I recognised from my classes and just started talking and talking. Hannah said at the end of the night that I seemed surer of myself after studying abroad. Before I felt a need to be friends with everyone but now I knew who my friends were and I was content with that. She was right.

The Writings on the Wall.

I still miss my American friends and talk to them on a fairly regular basis but a late night chat with George helped me put things into perspective. I’d had all my hopes of feeling “whole” again pinned on certain friends coming over on study abroad to Keele in the next year. Then something was said that made me realise how much of a living on a knife edge it was and just how unrealistic an expectation it was too. I realised I couldn’t solve this equation because being with my English friends meant being without my American friends and vice versa. Thus another step was taken forward. When George said about how he’d experienced similar reverse culture shock symptoms to me, it felt good that somebody understood. He made a valid point in that going back there for me wouldn’t be the same for my friends. They’d be happy to see me but it wouldn’t change their lives or anything like it would mine. Thus another step was taken forward. After this conversation I reflected on how I felt after returning from Australia in 2013 after living there for two months. I remembered being so determined to return to Australia in the summer of first year. I never did though, and that was key in helping me let go of my time in the USA. I ended up working that entire summer to go to the USA on study abroad and the need to return went away. Marcus correctly said that I wasn’t ready to go back to the USA just yet. I’m aware it won’t be the same place I left in June 2015 and maybe in six months’ time I’ll feel able to visit. But another step forward was taken and my moto has been “one step at a time, one day at a time.” I’ve also been so busy with work, university and trying to have some form of social life that I don’t have the time anymore to wallow, not if I want to pass anyway!

My entire study abroad experience was a kite that I was holding too close to my chest by not letting it fly. So with every step forward I took with the process of moving on and letting go, I let a little bit more string go so that I could watch the kite littered with love and memories of my time abroad float above me. By obstructing the view of it, I couldn’t see anything positive about being apart. But letting it fly allowed me to see it in all its blazing glory and I could see their lives and friendships that I’d been a part of be beautiful and long lasting; WITHOUT me. Maybe they know how much I care about them and maybe they don’t. But just like love, true friendship is “like the wind- you can’t see it but you can feel it.” 

“And when the last one falls
When it’s all said and done
It gets hard but it won’t take away my love.”

-Here Without You, 3 Doors Down.

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