America the Beautiful? (And Other Such Expat Tales)
Updated: Jan 26, 2022
Labas, everyone! Happy New Year! Welcome back to Into the Forests I Go, where I'm back in Lithuania from a pandemic-infused and caffeine-fueled ping pong excursion across North America.
I have to admit - this trip was so daunting, experiencing it felt like watching a reality show on my own life. I'm no stranger to itineraries and schedules (thanks, Mom!), but this was Next Level. And, I was curious as hell to witness my own reactions upon returning to my home country. (Had I outgrown my country? Where and what is home, anyway? Am I just a citizen of The World now? How do I get to the nearest TJ Maxx?)
Well, it's a bit like squeezing back into old spaces with a new frame: this trip has undoubtedly blurred the lines of my reality. America still feels like home, but... the relationship has changed. And, reverse culture shock? It's a thing. I walked into an Austin Walmart jet-lagged and dazed, surrounded by English words and beeping registers, overwhelmingly bright and disorienting. Ya girl almost had an anxiety attack, y'all. While it didn't take long to reorient myself to the huge trucks, sprawling strip malls, and low mask usage, I now see America the Beautiful through a sharper lens - its strengths (Whataburger's Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit) as well as its weaknesses (you know, healthcare).
Like many Americans, I have a complicated relationship with my home country. I am something of an ambassador when I'm off its shores, but my proselytization takes unique Eva-esque forms (SnoMo, national parks, queso). I've met people here in Lithuania who want to speak with me purely based on my American status, so I try to be as honest as I can - for better or worse. I viewed this trip as a potent opportunity to reflect on my last few months in Lithuania, and I did so in any spare moment I had under the wide, Texas skies or the hidden forests of Georgia.
But being back in Lithuania, I'm surprised at how quickly I've returned to Life (with a large handful of H-E-B corn tortillas in tow!): petting my dog, spending time with friends, grocery store excursions, a gorgeous vegetarian meal (who knew, Vilnius!?), just normal lived life... Once we arrived at our Helsinki, Finland layover, a smile broke through my heart hearing so many languages I didn't understand. What a relief to break out of the American spin - just as much of a relief as it was to return to the States and understand the signs. My husband and I moved around the world because we're adventurers and recognized this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - I felt the same gratitude on my return flights. Flying over the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) was a wholly unique experience and reminded me exactly where I've placed my feet.
And then! My whole body lit up once we broke through the clouds and descended into Vilnius. I recognized so many landmarks from the plane, completely filled with joy to see Gediminas' Tower, the Cathedral Square Christmas tree, the TV tower, the Church of St. Peter and Paul from above... This is home. What a prescient feeling.
I'll be honest with y'all - it'll take my body a few days to get back to its normal speed. Not because of jet lag, but because of the speed with which we crammed so much Life into so short a time. Add in flights and airports, and you've got yourself a date with the new (Austin!) Queer Eye. So, of course, the real answer to my question at the top is: home is - stick with me - where the heart is. I am changed, yet again. My friends and family are just a thought away, whether I'm in Lithuania or Antarctica. And now, let the Lithuanian adventure continue...
Until next time, viso gero! See y'all next week!