“The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning…”
Upon returning I remember feeling so excited to come home, but incredibly nervous. I knew that people were going to be asking me how my trip was, and wanting to hear about it, but was I ready to tell them everything that I had done and been through? All of the good and the bad? Would they want to hear the bad? Would they understand the bad? The thought of hearing my friends go on about seemingly trivial things was not something that I was interested in hearing. I am now realizing that it is important for me to tell my stories and experiences to those who decide to listen, want to listen; tell them to those whom I believe will benefit from my stories.
Culturally, I think I have adjusted quite well. There have been a couple of instances, like closing windows to not allow the “propu” (a breeze that will make you sick – its comes in one window and out another) or being shocked that I am receiving texts, where my brain has immediately defaulted to Bosnian ways of life, but those will subside. I think part of me wishes to keep some cultural idioms. Bosnia was such an enriching experience for me that I wish I could keep those cultural differences. They made my summer more meaningful.
So here I am, a week back from my travels, and still wondering how to adjust to being back. I do not think that I have fully adjusted but, in time I think it will get better. I think I have grown immensely personally. I have seen people that hold the willpower and the strength of what seems like a whole village, and I have heard stories that I will never forget. I do not feel all that different but I know that this experience has changed me in so many ways, and I think feeling that change and understanding that change is something that I will be working out for a while.
Its been 2 months since I’ve returned. I was going to leave my blog post as just the words above, but I felt as if those words did not nearly grasp the emotions that I have felt in these past 2 months.
What is so amazing about my IDP (International Disaster Psychology) program is that my professors understand the whole “reverse culture shock” thing. They have been abroad, they have done work abroad, and thus, I feel like they really understand what I have been going through. Because all of the others in my cohort went abroad to different places this summer, for the first 2 weeks of school we had re-entry meetings. At these meetings we discussed our time abroad and our feelings and emotions abroad and coming back. I thought this would be somewhat boring and not needed, boy was I wrong. At first I was very reluctant to speak. I know that people were feeling the same things as I was, but for some reason is was just difficult to talk about. I wanted to tell my friends and classmates, but it was just SO HARD to start talking. But once I did it was like word vomit. Everything just came pouring out. It was in this time that I realized that I was in some sort of an existential crisis. I was transitioning, the world around me was different. My perception of this world was now different. What the hell is going on?!
“…Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf… As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man…”
Before Bosnia I was by no means an “innocent” person, but yet upon return I feel as if I did lose this sense of innocence to me. I lost the ability to be a person who is oblivious, in the best way, to human suffering. Some people are happy and content, and not to their own fault, but because living a simple life and not thinking about these existential sort of things never crosses their mind. I am not one of those people. I lost the ability to be that person, even if I wanted to be. Having people that I can talk to, people with whom I do not need to say everything to, but innately understand my feelings, is extremely comforting.
Coping with this has been hard. It is so hard to cope with feelings that are attached to such ephemeral and existential ideas. They come and go. When I lay down at night, in the quietness of my apartment, they come creeping back. Randomly I will be overcome with great sadness, and that sadness, turns into anger. It is extremely hard to describe these feelings, especially if people have not experienced these sort of feelings. I am extremely thankful that I went with a group of students because I feel as if they understand what I am going through. I feel as if they do. I am extremely thankful for having a partner who lived in Jordan for 5 months and experienced similar feelings to what I did, and views the world as I do. He understands this existential loss …
“…But, if he’s reasonably strong – and lucky – he can emerge from this twilight of the soul… He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining…”
Thinking about Bosnia, while the loss of myself that I experienced through that trip has been hard, it has simultaneously inspired me. It has inspired me to want to help people who are experiencing loss, especially in the nature of post-conflict societies. It has also inspired me to work with people who work in these sorts of places, such as humanitarian aid workers abroad. This struggle has been so intense and complex for myself, and I am so grateful that I have the resources like my program, professors, and fellow students to help, but there are some people who go through this process and are then stuck in the aftermath. They do not know how to deal with vicarious trauma, and research has shown that vicarious trauma can be just as harmful as primary trauma, grief, and loss. Bosnia re-instilled my empathetic nature, and I realized that helping people who have first-hand experienced grief and loss due to conflict, and people who are vicariously traumatized due to conflict, are people I would really like to work with.
Bosnia was one of the most eye-opening and incredible experiences I have ever had. It was extremely profound. It was perspective shifting and personally shattering. But it was everything that I needed, everything that I wanted, and more.
“However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” ―Stanley Kubrick
Until we meet again.