Well ... I’m back in the USA which is weird in itself to say.
No longer do I wake up to the sound of the Muslim call to prayer or the rice and curry cooking in the kitchen. I don’t get to hear the Indonesian maids bickering or the chickens playing with the cats outside my house.
I don’t get to see my closest host family members every day anymore or speak Malay or do anything that became a norm for me this past year.
I’ve been in America for a month now and it feels more foreign than Malaysia ever did.
Socially, in the beginning, it’s easy. Everyone wants to see you, see how you’ve changed or not. Everyone wants to see your new cultural clothes and hear you speak profanities in your newfound tongue. In the beginning it’s easy.
But things change, and life will (try to) go back to normal.
I’m starting to think it never will.
My exchange year has given me an insight so much deeper than anything I’ve ever experienced. I question everything in my own home country and see it through new eyes.
It’s like I’m viewing the American culture through foreign eyes, watching it play out like a movie and I’m the last one to leave the theater, trying to take in everything I saw happen. Everything that is supposed to seem familiar, seems so strange and unexplainably confusing.
Hearing everyone speak English in the car has been overwhelming, ordering food after looking at all the options at restaurants is exhausting, and trying to hang out with friends is strange.
They say this all changes after I’ve adjusted back to my own culture, but I think after going on exchange, a part of me will always hold on to what I became while I was away.
That was not a year of my life. That was my life in a year. I believe living this separate, far away life has indubitably changed me, and I’m still trying to figure out how to merge who I am, who I was, and who I want to be.
Maybe time will give me better answers than I can give myself.
Courtlyn “Kaley” Heaberlin is a Whiteland Community High School student who traveled in July 2013 to Malaysia for a 10-month cultural immersion program. She has now returned to the United States. Her occasional column was excerpted from her blog. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.