Home Is Where the Heart Is

When I first arrived in Claremont as a freshman, I knew I had landed in heaven. I couldn’t imagine going to school anywhere else. This was a bit of a miracle considering I applied Early Decision without ever having been on campus while school was in session. How in the world did I get so lucky? During the second semester of my freshman year I joined the Forum because I wanted so desperately to be an active participant in this community that was so - in my freshman mind - awesome! I loved CMC so much, that when sophomore year came around, I didn’t even think twice about going abroad. Everyone else did it - of course, I was supposed to do it, too. So off to Italy I went.

I was prepared to have a life-changing experience, and I had one. But I want to talk about what I wasn’t prepared for - coming home. I had heard the whole spiel about the re-entry process, but I thought I had everything under control. “Reverse culture-shock” was for people who were not aware of the experiences they were having, and I thought that wasn't me. But as the date crept closer to my departure from Italy, there was an uneasiness lurking in the back of my mind. I was excited to see my friends from home, but I dreaded the thought of returning to America. In those last moments of my Italian life, I finally felt like an Italian. This was mostly marked by the moment when I finally understood my friend Marco’s sarcasm. He thought I had some weird character flaw, but really, humor, is just hard when you don't understand the nuances of another language. But in my last few weeks in the country I had come to love so dearly, I finally felt in sync with the Italians. I joked about how I was going to be “the flakiest person ever” when I got back to America because Italians just don’t do time schedules the way Americans do. I was swearing in Italian (sorry Mom!), I was giving people directions around Milan, and I finally acquired a taste for both espresso and vino. I pictured my roommate dragging me, kicking and screaming, out of our apartment on the last day. I’d be lying if I said something of that nature didn’t happen.


When I got home to the states, my fears were confirmed. I hated it. On my first day back, I was in the kitchen making myself lunch (spaghetti with prosciutto and arugula), when my mom walked in all jazzed for a day of watching the Packers game as a family. At that point, I was disgusted by even having to think about the Packers. Che cazzo! I don’t care about stupid football!  I was overcome with a completely irrational anger towards my mom. I felt like her presence in the kitchen was personally offensive because she should know better than to be in the same room with me after such a dramatic fight. But no such fight with my mom had ever occurred. I had to stop and knock some sense into myself: Hey Kelsey, she did nothing wrong. Why are you acting like this? You can’t be mean to her, that’s not fair. She’s just excited that you’re home! Get yourself together. I took a deep breath and tried to reason it all out, but that feeling wouldn’t go away. I spent the rest of the day IMing with my friend from abroad who was also wrapped up in this itchy blanket that was American re-adjustment. But, as each day passed, the American Kelsey crept to the surface and I no longer irrationally rejected Aaron Rodgers, or my family members for that matter. Christmas came and then New Years, and my life carried on.

By the time I came back to Claremont, I thought I was completely over it. It had been a month since I returned to the U.S., after all. I had no idea that returning to CMC was the part that I was wholly unprepared for. When I arrived, CMC, the place I had once deemed as “my own personal heaven,” felt uncomfortable. I felt like an orphan. Living in a mid-quad single, I had to proactively seek out interactions with friends. I found myself texting every person I knew before meals, hoping someone would respond. Even when they did, my stomach hated me for feeding it Collins food. Apparently all of the fresh Italian piatti turned my stomach into somewhat of a diva. I felt overwhelmed by all of the responsibilities that were asked of me - even though there really weren’t that many.
I had changed, but CMC hadn’t. I had gone away and had an experience that turned me from a circle to a square, and I no longer fit into CMC’s keg-shaped cookie cutter. After spending four months living in another country and building relationships with people of a different culture, I couldn’t get past a feeling of how ridiculous, trivial and irrelevant everything inside the Claremont bubble was. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s how I felt. Remember: this whole re-entry process is irrational, and no one is more frustrated by it than me. The Italian in me really came forward during the SAT disaster, as my frustrations were focused not on the jeopardy of our school’s integrity, but rather, on why the heck everyone cared so much. I guess that’s what I get for assimilating into Berlusconi’s culture. Maybe there are some things I should have left in Italy.


But just as it did when I first arrived home, this feeling of displacement is now going away - slowly. I can’t say exactly why, but my return to CMC was more of a culture shock than when I first arrived in Italy. I joked to my mom on the phone, “It feels like returning to CMC from abroad is more difficult than actually living in a foreign country.” But I know that I would feel this way no matter where I went to school. I am just thankful that the community my subconscious is resisting so much is a welcoming one. And at the end of the day, it is this special place that allowed and encouraged me to even embark on such a meaningful adventure abroad.
In a recent conversation with a friend who decided not to study abroad, I was shocked to find that she didn’t regret her decision at all. Why wouldn't someone regret the choice not to pursue such a life-altering experience? But from her perspective, she was asking the same question about my choice. I was shocked to realize how different our experiences of CMC are, even though we are very close friends. I realized that this experience I am having is singular in the most personal sense. Strangely, it doesn’t feel lonely.


So what have I taken away from all of this? That everything is relative. That every experience is only as meaningful as you make it. I am incredibly grateful for how much I grew while abroad - a growth that occurred largely because I wanted it to. But that chapter of my life is over. The Kelsey Brown that exists today would be totally different if I had skipped that chapter of my life; my story wouldn’t make sense. But it’s time to continue writing my story. So now I officially declare that I am climbing out of this slump! But I’m not climbing out empty-handed. I have a weight on my back that is making this climb a little more difficult than I had hoped for, but I am making my way back. I am done wasting what part of my CMC experience I have left. Claremont, I missed you. It feels so good to be back.