Only when you have lived in two countries can you really appreciate the fact that there is no perfect country. But that appreciation comes with a price — homelessness.
My adventure with kielbasa and vodka began ten years ago last month, when I packed off for what I thought would be two years in central Europe. Little did I know — I lived there for seven years, all told.
The fact that I returned shows that I really didn’t need the last four years to call the place “home.” I’m still not even close to fluent in Polish (nor will I ever be) and the average Pole can still drink me under the table (though I’m not ashamed of that), but somehow the sausage and freezing winters did something to my DNA, and I feel at least partially Polish.
Every time I came back to the States, I lived through reverse culture shock. I immediately hated it and loved it: the ability to get humus at four in the morning versus a culture that seems to be in love with kitche; a hundred kilometers in under an hour versus ridiculous health insurance.
It was even worse moving back the first time. Poland called to me even in my dreams. When I went back for a visit after a year in Poland — culture shock, of a sort. “I can’t believe I _lived_ here!”
Yet there was a strange comfort there, and so I went back, fully aware of the challenges and fully prepared for the material sacrifices. A few days after arriving, I wrote in my journal: “Will I ever learn to be happy with my life as it is at that very moment?”
I hated it. And stayed four more years.
Back to America, full of high hopes, and I hate it again.
Once you live in another culture, your legs are knocked out from under you. You see the silver lining and the disgusting grey of both cultures, and you realize you’ll probably never be entirely happy in either.