Agh … I’ve been back in the “West,” back home for less than 7 months now and I can’t shake that urge to leave again! I love the US and Canada (where Jess and I have been since we returned from China after Teaching English for 2 years), but now that we are back amongst the comforts of our own continent, life can feel a bit dull at times. We’re finding that more and more often our thoughts drift back to traveling adventures and excitement overseas.
Perhaps this is just another case of the ”grass is always greener?”
When Jess and I were living in China we would talk all the time about things we missed in N. America, reminisce about life being easier back home and complain non-stop about never being understood, inefficiencies, feeling out of place and the massive differences between Chinese-American culture. There were massive pluses too though, like teaching english was a crazy-rewarding job and the ability to travel Asia in our spare time was awesome. We obviously enjoyed the adventure of traveling and living abroad, but after 2 years in rural China certain things started taking their toll and by the end we looked forward to returning home.
But now …. oh the present … Ha! How different life changes when your perspective changes! Now that we are back home we are finding that we miss some of those aspects of life abroad.
The novelties of western life certainly wore off quickly.
Life is indeed easier and more comfortable being back home, but it can also be more complicated as routine, obligations and social norms set in… It becomes hard to find a balance between working and finding time for hobbies, fun and adventure.
It wasn’t long being back home before we started thinking back to China and missing some of the more subtle parts of life abroad. At first we didn’t even admit it to ourselves … admitting it to one another took even longer. But now after 7 months of being home we have both openly admitted that we miss parts of living in Asia. The draw of the open road is upon us again!
… but North America is awesome, right?
Yes! obviously north america is awesome and provides a quality of life that has seldom been seen in history. There are huge opportunities and rights given to people of all walks of life and that can not be undermined.
… So why is it that Jess and I are having trouble acclimating back into society? Why is it that 2 years living in China has caused us to re-asses our own society and consider that perhaps there are better ways of doing things in other parts of the world?
Now don’t get me wrong… China is not exempt from those less-glamorous sides of capitalism. In fact their problems are just beginning when it comes to the mental, emotional & physical problems that individuals begin to suffer from working excessively long hours. In China though, we made more than enough money to live comfortably (we were in a low-cost-of-living location), people were always nice and life was simple.
I’m not sure if it’s the pace of western society that is hard to get used to again or the fact that capitalism and day-to-day life seem to buzz non-stop without coming up for air. There is something about traveling that forces you to “come up for air” and it is hard to jump back into the chaos after being gone for so long.
Re-assessing values with a focus on happiness.
In many ways, returning home after an extended absence has led me to consider my values and what I think is important in life. For me, happiness, relaxation and leisure time are more important than earning excess money and advancing within a career. (Check out a book called “The Joy of Not Working” for more on this). I mean come on … is working 50hrs/wk worth it just so I can afford a bunch of crap that I don’t need a healthy way to live? Is it really ethical/moral/right to work long hours at the expense of your own health and happiness in order to secure “future” happiness? …. what about your happiness NOW?
Anyway, I’m digressing a bit, but traveling and living abroad takes away all the social forces and influences that you are accustomed to and allows you to breathe for the first time. It gives you a chance to decide for yourself what is the best way for you to live. Jess and I have learned that Sustainable Travel is possible and we don’t need as much as we initially thought to be happy and get by in life. So maybe comfort, routine, career advancement & retirement security are less important to us than chasing adventure and living happier with less things and less security.
Travel gives us perspective.
It’s one of my favorite aspects of travel… the ability to realize that your own country and culture may not be the best in the world. It’s interesting just how many people across the planet believe that their country is the biggest, baddest, greatest country to ever have existed! Americans are most definitely like this, we are taught that we are Star-Spangled Awesome from a very young age. China is probably even worse when it comes to thinking they are the best and the list goes on and on with countries who “know” they are the best country.
Once you travel to other places though, it becomes blatantly obvious that you’re country is not the best at everything. They may be the best at some things and they may even be the best country to live in (in your opinion), but your country is never the best at everything.
So now what?
So now what do we do? Jess and I are from 2 of the greatest countries in the world … but we continually get stuck in trying to love where we live. Nowhere is ever perfect, but we have been cursed with the so-called “travel bug.” Once you get it, it really is hard to settle down.
I suppose that all we can do is continue to plan trips to far away places and in the meantime, never stop exploring our own backyards. Being aware of our ethnocentric tendencies will help us to connect with travelers and foreigners who come to Canada and the U.S.
The draw of the open road may never go away, but we can learn to live with it and yield to it when necessary. Life can be great wherever we are. We will try to appreciate what we have at home and look forward to discovering new & awesome places in the future!
We will be working here in Vancouver and getting by for now … at least until the next adventure!