July is the month we say goodbye to writers who are retiring or moving on to new adventures, and this is Katerina’s last post. She has been writing with us since July 2015.
“I am so
Grateful to be here, but it is so
Hard to be here— I feel I am
Inhabiting a stranger’s body: stiff, and
Jetlagged not in hours but in years.”
– “A is for After”
I keep rereading my writing from 2019, back when I first moved to DC and found myself managing the mingled excitement and frustration of being back in a place that was both familiar and disorienting. I knew to be prepared for “reverse culture shock,” but it still hit me hard.
As pandemic restrictions lift in my city, I find myself struck by some of these same feelings. I know some places in the US have been open for months, while in other countries lockdowns continue and the end of the pandemic could be years away. But where I live, in Washington DC, the freedom to see each other without masks, to eat together, dance together, stay out late—this is all fresh. I attended a long-anticipated gathering and then cried in the car afterward. It is so good to get back into a crowd, but it’s harder and stranger and lonelier than I expected it would be.
The Art of Coming Home, by Craig Storti, is a book for people returning from time abroad. Storti writes about the ambiguity of “home” when one has been gone for some time. Normally “home,” Storti writes, can be defined by “familiar places, familiar people,” and “routines and predictable patterns of interactions.” But after a year or more away, favorite places might have shut down, loved ones have grown and changed, familiar routines are impossible to recover.
On my first trip post-vaccination, I met friends’ babies who didn’t exist pre-pandemic. My boyfriend of nine months is a big part of my life—most of my friends have never met him. We may have gone through this pandemic at the same time, but we did not go through it together. Some of us have changed in substantial ways. Some have lost loved ones, some adopted puppies, some struggled with mental health issues, and others moved across the world.
Storti’s book talks about reentry in stages. The first is the honeymoon stage, when you’re welcomed back by your friends and family, eat your favorite foods and visit your favorite spots. Reverse culture shock hits later—you might feel overwhelmed and judgmental of others who don’t understand or appreciate the ways that you have changed. Your old habits and routines don’t fit in this new place, and you miss them. You don’t know if you fit where you find yourself anymore.
The third stage of reentry is readjustment, making peace with the ways you have changed. It’s mourning what’s lost, recovering what’s worth saving, and creating new things where that’s possible. Whether we reentered society a long time ago, or have yet to begin, it helps to know what stage you’re in, and it helps to talk about it. I’m eager to talk about it, over coffee or a beer, with music, among people once again.
Katerina Parsons (’15) lives in Washington D.C., where she works in advocacy at Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office and studies international development at American University’s School of International Service. She spends a lot of time thinking about US policy towards Central America and North Korea, writing, singing, and searching for the city’s best pupusas (suggestions welcome).