Traveling the world and the seven seas is definitely worth it. But then what? Do we belong to a specific place or do we not? Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you would answer that question because some people are regularly or even constantly on the move either for business or personal purposes, or both. Some people are less nomadic in their life-defining choices.
Let’s try to brainstorm about the work in process at stake while you go back to your country, keeping in mind each person and experience is unique.
Getting back on track in an inherently familiar country might sound like an easy process. But, what’s changed is that your relationship with this allegedly familiar country is now to be considered with two factually unavoidable truths. First and foremost, you changed by crossing the border, in terms of values, attitudes, actions, dreams, and projects. Then your country most likely changed as well while you were not there.
So here you are, noticing step by step that your general living environment back home changed at various possible degrees of intensity since you left. On a more personal note, your friends and family have continued their lives. In one word, the earth kept revolving without you. It’s like there’s a shifting timeline in the life of someone who left his country for a short or long journey, like a sailor.
A variable-sized gap might be from now on dealt with while resettling back home. A discrepancy between in one hand your memories of reassuring and familiar situations, and on the other hand the emotions actually felt. As Peter Parker once said, “This is my gift, this is my curse”.
Primo, the first impression which might be compared to being jetlagged. This adjustment phase deserves to a purposefully dedicated amount of time. An idea could be to harness the strength of dialogue.
Secundo, a written assessment of the travel might be considered as a feather in your cap. This opportunity to take a step back encompasses several components of your recently ended journey: strong points, weak moments, then learnings, perspectives, and finally short- and mid-term objectives. Starting from this report, you can try to capitalize on your experience. For instance in terms of language skills or terms of dissemination with other people.
This evaluation phase is as well a useful way to bring meaning to the travel and identify the points of reference which have evolved, which makes reintegration easier.
Tertio, the returning traveler or expatriate goes beyond this step and, little by little finds his or her balance. He or she progressively develops and enhances his ability to insert this complexity into his unique path, as an ace up his or her sleeve. This remains accurate even if these added value might not be that easy to identify and crystalize at first sight of this new step in your path. In my assessment, there is no legitimacy to mandatorily limit yourself to a single identity. I don’t buy the statement that “when you’re a citizen from the world, you’re a citizen from nowhere”.
Quarto, being back in your home country does not mean this is the end of the road. There are definitely plenty of ways to keep practicing and fostering intercultural awareness. I endorse the theory that traveling is a state of mind in itself. Foresighting the post-travel time is a step in itself of traveling and a pretty important one. This can be defined as being proportionally important to the length of the stay abroad.
I am firmly convinced the human mind has enough potential to encompass multiple identities. For instance, I feel equally attached to both cities I studied in for my joint Master’s degree in European Studies, Euroculture: Göttingen (Germany), and Strasbourg (France).
I do think it is a fallacy to think that intercultural identity will eventually be a drawback. It most likely will make you more able to take a step back and tackle challenges with a new perspective and enhanced flexibility. You know yourself way better and get used to switching perspectives. You tend to less take things for granted while you might have considered them as obvious in the past. So you adapt and respond accordingly. While here at home with recent and ongoing electoral campaigns, we have to deal with a political landscape trajectory that slides rapidly from tolerant to suspicious to downright hostile toward multiculturalism. Fortunately, I want to believe an increasing part of people just get sick and tired of resurgent rhetoric fostering hatred in our societies. In my belief, they just wanna be told that it’s over and desire more open-mindedness.
Jules Striffler (text and pictures)
– La bible du grand voyageur (Lonely Planet)
Bouchard, A., Charroin, G., and Thomassey, N. (2012). La bible du grand voyageur (Lonely Planet). 1st ed. Baume-les-Dames, France: En vøyage Éditions, pp.92-94
– Modified quote of the movie Body of Lies, by Ridley Scott, 2008
– Quote from the movie Spider-man, by Sam Raimi, 2002
– Quote from a speech by Theresa May, former UK Prime Minister, October 2016