…Originally written February 21st 2017…
It’s been 74 days since I landed in England after living in Nicaragua for 90 days. It’s practically been the length of time I spent away since I’ve been home now, which is crazy to believe. Especially because I haven’t done anything to show for it since being back, but that’s a whole other reality I’m yet to deal with.
I knew things would be different once I arrived home, but I wasn’t quite sure how different and how much it would affect me. Most people would probably think that the culture shock of living in a rural Nicaraguan community, with no electricity, no flushing indoor toilet and no hot water would be the most challenging thing to adjust to. But that was a breeze in comparison. My host family and community of La Sandino were the most welcoming, kind and loving people I could’ve ever hoped to have met and lived with. So that made adjusting to living in Nicaragua much easier to say the least. It says a lot that virtually everyone, community members, us volunteers and people I had never even met before, were crying at our farewell party. Knowing how much everyone was loved and appreciated while we were there definitely made it harder to leave. But the reality of how much I would miss everyone and Nicaragua did not sink in until I was home and thrust straight back into my typical everyday English life.
For the past 12 weeks I’d been working alongside a group of people who became like family to me and living alongside a family who welcomed me with open arms as one of their own, so not seeing them everyday was by far the strangest part. I was back home and surrounded by people who didn’t understand the experience I’d had and wouldn’t unless they’d also done the same thing. The toughest part was that it seemed like not many people cared enough to ask in-depth questions about how it had been, they just cared about the superficial stuff like the toilet situation and whether there was any good looking guys. Both of which were things I had no real interest in explaining, yes, the toilets were basic and more often than not smelly and fly infested but that was expected, and no, nothing romantic happened, surprisingly romance is not what I flew 5000+ miles for.
It’s a huge part of my life, something I’ll never forget and an experience that has shaped the actions I’ll make for the rest of my life. It’s for that reason that I understand why my friends only want to know the juicy superficial stuff – because it’s too deep and personal to ask about the other stuff. When talking to other Raleigh volunteers from Tanzania, Nepal and also friends from Nicaragua, they mentioned that it might be because of jealousy. I had an experience of a lifetime while my friends were living their lives and becoming working adults. However, I’m the one that’s jealous, jealous of their ability to move on with their lives, earn a decent living and function like a ‘proper’ adult, unlike me who refuses to make any decision larger than what I’ll be eating for dinner. Understandably, they could be jealous as well, maybe of me travelling, seeing how happy I was, but I don’t know. I’m just glad I got the chance to talk to other volunteers about their experiences with their friends, it acted as major reassurance knowing that they also wondered why their friends seemed uninterested. Being given the opportunity to spend a day just talking and thinking through everything with people that understood it all, that was really what I needed. So I have to thank Raleigh for organising the Return Volunteer Day, not just to discuss the final part of completing the ICS programme, but for allowing us to talk, listen, support each other and for caring about how we’re settling back in.
At first I didn’t want to believe I was suffering from reverse culture shock, despite it being a totally natural thing to experience. I just thought I’d feel better after Christmas and then after New Years with my family at Disneyland, but it’s been 74 days and I’m probably still experiencing the aftershocks of returning home. I’ve never been one to talk about my feelings or seek help for any illnesses, I just like to power through it myself, but that turned out to be the worst thing I could’ve done in this situation. It was only after my return volunteer day at Raleigh with people who went through the same experience and were still 2 months later experiencing the weirdness of being home, that I understood that I wasn’t the only one still feeling this way.
There’s still so many things I’m confused about, remember that whole other reality I’m yet to deal with that I mentioned, well this is it. I’m still hanging onto my experience with Raleigh and wishing I was back in Nicaragua, back where I’m accepted, appreciated and loved, where I felt like I had a purpose. Now I’m back home doing nothing. I’ve applied for jobs but nothing substantial and long term. I’m contemplating applying for a masters but I’m worried I won’t enjoy it or do well. I’m still as confused about my future as I was before I left. Decisions are clearly not my strong point.
The only thing I’m certain of right now is that being home sucked at first, then sucked a bit more and still sucks a bit now – but I have a home, a family who love me, a bright future and a whole new open perspective on the world because of this experience. No matter how much I struggle living with so much after living without it for 3 months, I appreciate everything that I’ve got that little bit more now. Regardless of how out-of-place I feel while living in the country I have since birth, it is a reminder of how important my time in Nicaragua was to me and how much I have gained from my experience volunteering with Raleigh.