Why is this such a big deal? Well, for one thing, I have never lived in the United States until now. Well, okay, I did live in Washington, DC my first two years ever on this planet, but that doesn't count. I can't even remember it! Anyway, I have been in Washington since August 1997. For the 13 years before that, my address was (it seemed to me) some unknown country in the middle of nowhere. Now, seven months later, I think enough time has passed since my return for me to reflect on the change.
Where have I spent most of my life? Well, I have lived in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka. My parents worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), helping to develop countries that were very different from the United States. Below is a description of the three countries I lived in:
Suva, Fiji (1982-88): Fiji is a small island nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. When I was there, there was no TV; there may have been radio. However, there were very beautiful beaches and beach resorts, and practically no crime. Would you believe that my mom played tennis with the prime minister's daughter? I don't think Chelsea Clinton would have agreed to do that here.
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (1989-93): This is the right half of the island of New Guinea; the left half belongs to Indonesia. There was TV here. We even got Australian TV because we had a dish. But crime here was very bad. We were robbed only once--someone broke into our car. But that was nothing compared to my best friend's mom being held at knife point in broad daylight at a bank. So life there was scary, and my social life was, well, not very active.
Colombo, Sri Lanka (1993-97): My last post was a small island in the Indian Ocean with awesome beaches and majestic mountains. At peace? No. A civil war has been going on since the 1980s. A terrorist group called the Tamil Tigers want to divide this already small island and have their own nation. The actual fighting was in the north, but there were occasional terrorist activities in the capital, Colombo, which is in the southwest. Hey, guess what? There was even a bomb two days ago! What a surprise! Thankfully none of my friends have been hurt, and neither was I when I was there. Despite these events, I did have a great time there, with advantages like cheap, GOOD dinners at fancy restaurants, cheap public transport, a great international school, and the best friends I've ever had.
Now I live in Washington, DC, not Third World, essentially safe--compared to where I lived before--cable TV, parties, music, movies, and all those other things which a teenager needs (oops, I left out McDonald's). I'm not saying those things are all new to me, because I have visited the U.S. on a regular basis, but in the end it is still different. Overseas, three days of gray skies and heavy rain was okay; in the U.S., people complain about three days of rain. After being overseas in three Third World countries, I take fewer things for granted and don't complain as much about little things like ants, mosquitoes, and bad smells.
To my surprise, my new-found friends didn't think I was a snob, and they were interested in who I am and where I've been, even though they have no idea where those places are. The closest anyone ever got to knowing the location of Sri Lanka was, "that's near Nepal, right?" (Nepal is actually 1,100 miles from Sri Lanka.) As I was saying, my new friends didn't think I was a snob; they even thought it cool that I had a maid, cook, and driver. But their essential reaction was to prove that America must be better in every way. Overseas, I would say, "I hate this country, why can't it be like the U.S.?" But now it looks as though I'm defending the countries I've lived in! How ironic. Compared to where I've lived all my life, America really is better in almost every way, but this absolutely does not mean every other country is awful (even though I kind of made it seem that way.)
So in the end, moving back to the U.S. is not all about the cable TV, parties, music, movies, and McDonald's--it's the people. The people were the biggest adjustment for me, and now I feel that it is my duty to prove that the rest of the world is not like what my new friends may think it is.