Archive for July 15th, 2013

July 15, 2013


by Tabitha Kidwell

Most triathletes will tell you that the trickiest parts of a race are the transitions. If I’m in good shape and well trained, I can kinda go on auto-pilot during the swimming, biking, or running. But the switching from one to the other is stressful. You have to change clothes, eat and drink, find your way in and out of the transition area, maybe try to pee without anyone noticing. Even if you think you’re prepared, it is really easy for things to go wrong or for unforeseen challenges to arise. I’m in the middle of a huge transition now, moving from life in Indonesia to life in America. I’ve been home 4 days, and it was been a little rough.

The first two days were difficult because I was just so tired. I always thought I was good at dealing with jet lag, but this time the 12-hour time difference hit me like a truck. I’m sure it didn’t help that I’ve spent a month traveling, so was run down going into the trip home. To make matters worse, I don’t think I slept more than 4 or 5 hours between waking up in Singapore on Wednesday morning (Tuesday evening, Ohio time) and arriving at CMH on Thursday evening. Friday and Saturday, I woke up feeling refreshed, but totally ran out of steam by noon. I felt like I couldn’t imagine ever having energy again. I think I went to bed while it was still light out both evenings.

At the moment, I feel less tired, but I feel totally socially awkward. Routine questions like “what’s your phone number?” or “what do you do?” leave me stumped. The cashier at CVS asked if I had an extra care card and I stammered for about a minute before asking for a new one. Part of the issue is that these questions are not so simple for me at the moment, but the people asking them don’t want to hear a 5-minute explanation. They don’t want “well, I was a French and Spanish teacher, but then I moved to Indonesia to teach English but actually got really involved with teacher training and really enjoyed that, so now I want to apply to Ph.D. programs so I can do that in the States, but I won’t start until next year, so for now I’m going to start applying to and visiting programs but in the meantime I might score tests online or do some freelance translation or maybe do a short-term volunteer position abroad.” They want “I’m a teacher.”

Another issue is that people ask these big questions like “How was Indonesia?” that I cannot possibly sum up in one sentence or one minute. I was out with friends last night, and was talking to this very nice woman who knew a lot about Indonesia. “Wow, Indonesia,” she said. “We do some business there, that must have been so interesting.” For my friends’ benefit, she continued: “You know, it’s a country of 200 million, but we don’t hear much about it…” (My inner monologue: two hundred FORTY million) “… and it’s the world’s largest Muslim country…” (largest Muslim MAJORITY country) “…so what was the hardest thing to adjust to, culturally?” I just stood there for a good 30 seconds with my mouth open. I looked at her, I looked at my two friends, I looked back at her, and still couldn’t say anything. (Say food, say clothing, say religion, say weather, say whatever, just say words, Tabitha. Say any word. Come on. Anytime now.) It’s been almost two years since I was really thinking about adjusting to the culture, and I totally drew a blank. I think what makes these kinds of questions difficult is the amount of time involved. In most of our daily interactions, we ask about small amounts of time: “What did you do last night?” and “How was work today?”. We don’t often ask things like “How have you been since 2011?” or “What emotions were you experiencing 18 months ago?”. I think this is why I’ve found it easier to talk about my 2.5 weeks in Vietnam – I have enough distance from a 20 day trip. I’m not sure how much distance I’ll need from a 2 year-long experience, but it’s definitely more than 4 days.

There are answers to all these questions, but I don’t have them ready yet. I’m still figuring out what I gained and learned from my 2 years in Indonesia. Once I figure out the answer for myself, I’ll be ready to talk to my friends and family about it, and after that I’ll be ready to boil it down to a sound byte for the person I just met. Until then, I’m just going to work my way through this transition and hope I don’t pee myself.