Not surprisingly, re-entry to the USA has been a bit of a culture shock for many reasons. There were countless things, both positive and negative, that we’d forgotten the feeling of entirely! Even after being back a few months, I am often surprised by how different the US is from anywhere else.
But one of the biggest shocks of getting back happened to me and Theo. Traveling for a year was a wonderful experience, but it required us to deal with a multitude of situations we haven’t ever dealt with in Denver, from navigation issues to going months on end without another English-speaking child to play with. I can literally list off every single instance that we played with other kids. Being with adults all the time led to some great conversations, and was easy enough to get in the habit of (especially for me), but we often got a little bit lonely.
When we got back, I was expecting to feel many things, but feeling like I got my childhood back was never on that list. And yet that’s exactly what I felt. As soon as we returned, we couldn’t throw a stone without hitting another English-speaking kid. Now we’re never expected to go months without actually playing.
Being plopped back in to life as an American child, I’ve been able to observe things that I never would have noticed had we not gone on our trip. For example, the kids in the schools we visited in Laos had no shoes and very little adult supervision during school hours, and yet they were more diligent students than any one of my peers. American children in general are taught to value material wealth. Americans may have a lot of cheap stuff, but seem much less content with their lives than children all over the world – Ireland, Turkey, Laos, Italy, Thailand, New Zealand, Kenya, and the list goes on.
What is this a function of? Is it that Americans spend much less time with family than in these other places? Is it that the American media pressures children to grow up before their time? In many places, the parents work all day, and the children have to grow up very quickly to take care of their house and their siblings, which disproves both of those theories. In my opinion, children in America are less satisfied because their lives are missing something. Too often in our culture inexpensive things that we neither love nor need cover up the subtle things that represent childhood: the lemonade stands with neighbors, the capture the flag games in the street, the pickle-making endeavors with grandparents, and everything else that is just another part of life for children worldwide, but slowly disappearing from American culture.
Long live childhood!