You're an Expatriate See...You've Lost Touch with the Soil

I have less than a month here in Denmark. I really don't want to leave nor do I feel ready to leave. Nevertheless, I am coming back to good ole' North Cackalacky. Over the past few weeks, I've begun to ponder and dwell intentionally on this experience and how it's changed and shaped me.  I've been thinking especially about how I'm going to be a different person back home and what it will be like to integrate back into the American culture.

This semester I've been writing a paper for my 'American Fiction between the World Wars' class on the Lost Generation of World War I. This generation was comprised of those young people who grew up in both mind and body during WWI. This generation was marked not only by the changing times, but also by their lost nature, both spiritually and physically. The young men who fought in Europe came back to America changed. They expected America to be the same as when they left but America changed as well during the war. They struggled to find their place because of the change within the culture but mainly because they had gone through things that no one else had gone through. For those who came back from the war, they entered into a stage of exploration where young men and women experimented with what they found behind the curtain of adulthood in order to develop new morals and beliefs since the war shattered the old ones.

 The homecoming Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald expected was not at all what they received and they felt like outcasts immediately upon stepping on American soil. These two expatriates did not fit in with the American culture. This inspired them to write three literary masterpieces: Farewell to Arms, The Sun also Rises and Tender is the Night. In these three novels, the idea of the expatriate is further delved into. The expatriate is one who has 'lost touch with the soil' and desires to go back to Europe. The expatriate is one who is changed by their time abroad. Ultimately, the expatriate is one who is literally an ex-patriot - they are an exile out of their own country.

Studying the works of Hemingway and Fitzgerald has been a great prequel to my own homecoming. In many ways, I have related to the characters of Lt. Frederic Henry in Farewell to Arms, Robert Cohn in The Sun Also Rises and Dick Diver in Tender is the Night. All of these men were expatriates and all of them struggled to find their place in both the European and American culture. In many ways I'm definitely not a Dane and I don't completely fit into the Danish culture over here, but in other ways I have changed so much as a person from five months ago. Life back home has changed as well and in many ways I will be coming back as an 'exile.' I don't think I will identify as much with American culture from my time in Europe and that's a scary thought.

I've tried to begin preparing myself on the reality of coming back to the USA. One of my good friends told me that when I return most people will only want to hear maybe at most, a two-minute synopsis of my time in Copenhagen. Another friend mentioned that people will probably get tired of hearing about my experiences and won't really care at all. I've definitely had friends who have made an effort to understand my life in Copenhagen through frequent messages, texts, letters and snapchats. They've let me pour out my heart as I try to understand life over here myself, they've supported me through the tough days, and they've continued to be there for me no matter what. However, very few people will be able to relate to my experiences here in beautiful Copenhagen. They won't understand hygge, the obsession with Christmas, the biking culture, being an American in a totally foreign place and also how much someone learns and can change in just five months. Some will try but most won't even care. I'm not trying to be cynical, I'm just trying to have realistic expectations. 

For as long as I can remember, I have always held myself to extremely high, basically unreachable expectations just because I like a challenge. Half the time the challenge ends up seriously damaging my mental health because there is no earthly way I can complete it. When I first came here to Copenhagen, I had very high expectations about everything and I had to work through a lot of disappointment based on how high I had made my expectations. Through my time here, I've definitely had to lower my expectations and because of that I've been much more satisfied. Nevertheless, I worry that my expectations of returning to America are too high. Life won't be all roses.

I worry about coming back. I feel so comfortable here in Denmark now. I've put down roots and now I'm a tree being yanked out of the soil I've been in for five months. I worry what it will be like to integrate back into the culture of N.C. State. I worry if I can integrate into my groups of friends at my church in the way I used to be. Most of all, I worry that my time over here in Denmark has changed my view on life so much that it will be difficult to be mentally present in North Carolina.

I'm trying to prepare myself for the reality of coming back from studying abroad. Reverse culture shock is a legitimate thing that happens when you return home from studying abroad and part of me thinks I won't have any problem with it, but the other more realistic side of me realizes that the time it took for me to get accustomed to Denmark will probably be similar to the time it takes for me to feel reintegrated. Don't get me wrong, I am excited to come home and see all my friends and catch up, walk around State's campus again and enjoy all the amazing American foods I have missed, but at the same time, I'm a realist and I know myself and know that it is going to be hard coming back home. I am an expatriate and I have lost touch with the American soil, now I just have to be replanted in it again.


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