I just moved back to the United States after living and reporting from Lima, Peru. Reacclimating has been tough. I miss reporting on topics I know are important. I miss the challenge of navigating Latin America. But, most of all, I miss my old world. It’s just weird to be on U.S. soil.
People rarely ask me about Peru, but when they do it’s mostly to reference Machu Picchu and rattle off some platitude about the joys of traveling. And that’s cool. Small talk is small talk. But it kind of wears on a gal, you know?
In the future, when you meet someone who’s just moved “home” after time away, keep the following tips in mind. It’ll make their (very stressful) transition oh-so much easier.
Stop calling it a journey, an adventure, a gap year, a fellowship or a “year off.”
This isn’t some “Eat, Pray, Love” bullshit. I didn’t run away from the first world so I could gofindmyself or embracemybody or discoverthemeaningoflife.
Also, an adventure is what little kids go on after their mothers have sufficiently smothered them in sunscreen and checked the backyard for snakes. Take note.
No, my parents didn’t fork over the big bucks so I could galavant across a continent.
No, I didn’t have an institution backing my work or paying my way.
No, I didn’t take a year off, but I did work my ass off.
Stop telling me, “Oh, I could never do that.”
You definitely can’t do it. You can’t do it, but not for the reasons you’re implying. You sigh and say, “Not everybody has as much spare income as you.” “Not everyone has so much time.” “Not everyone has so few responsibilities.”
I would like to point out that I am white, and my parents are proud members of the U.S. middle class, which means I have WAY more opportunities than most people in the world. But you, naysayer, aren’t referring to that.
Stop implying that I have money to burn—I’m a freelance reporter. Stop suggesting I spent a year in the lap of luxury—see this post. Stop insinuating that I had no one to answer to—I have personal goals, financial demands, editors, family and face societal pressures just like everyone else.
Maybe you can’t do it because you’re not willing to throw yourself into the unknown without a safety net. Maybe you’re not a fan of literally chasing down sources? Maybe you want to avoid tear gas? Or, maybe international reporting just isn’t your thing. And that’s fine, but please stop with the nudges and winks already.
Stop saying, “Oh, that must have been so much fun!”
Because, most of the time, it wasn’t.
Most of the time the simple act of eating was a battle because everything that went into my mouth came out. Most of the time I was fighting people who wanted to screw me over. Most of the time I was grappling with the cultural barrier. Most of the time I was cold or sick or scared or a lovely combo of all three.
<rant>Do you know how difficult it is to pitch stories about Latin America? GOOD stories? Stories that take history into account, that don’t whitewash, that don’t gloss over culture? Do you know how much mansplaining I had to endure with editors back home? how much ignorance and apathy there was in regard to anything that wasn’t U.S.- or Europe-related?</rant>
Yes, you went to Machu Picchu. Yes, you went on a reporting trip to the Amazon. No, it is not the same thing as living and reporting in the country. That is called “parachuting in.”
So, yeah, I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns.