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  • Kristina Elyse Butke

Back in the USA


A small American flag standing among the grass with a sunny, cloudy background: BACK IN THE USA
Photo by Aaron Burden via Unsplash

Well, I've been back home in the US since August ...August when? What are dates? What is time?


Ok. I just checked. I've been back in the States since August 3rd. Holy moly. It feels like I just got back, and that I've hardly been here at all. I know I've been doing stuff every day, and I've been trying to accomplish things, like getting a cell phone, studying for my driver's permit, redoing my old bedroom, etc., but most of my days have been spent being a total lump.


Things have been happening around me, but I'm just not registering it at all. When my mother was driving me around the old hometown, she said I looked "shell-shocked." I guess that's how I feel. I can't believe I'm back here, after six whole years in Japan.


Probably one of the first things to shock me when I got back was how...blunt (and sometimes rude) people are when they speak to each other. I observed all of this at the airports, and I don't know, maybe airports suck, but I thought the guy working customs and the lady at the counter I asked for help were pretty curt with me, and it surprised me.


The second thing to throw me for a loop is how nobody wears masks. In Japan, we wore masks indoors and outdoors--pretty much everywhere you went, you wore a mask, unless you were at home. The flight from Kumamoto to Tokyo, everyone wore masks, and then the flight from Tokyo to the US, they told us we could take them off, and my seatmates did just that (one of them saying dramatically, "Thank God!" when he tore his mask off).


During all the time I've been here, I've maybe seen five people wear masks total. In my hometown, I saw two people wearing masks. I mask up whenever I go indoors but I feel so weird being the only one masked. Not even the people I'm around regularly mask up. And I wanted to wear my mask outdoors but was told it wasn't necessary, so I caved and took it off. And it made me nervous to. I want to stay diligent with mask-wearing because I don't want to get COVID or give it to any family or friends, but I'm a weak person and I'm trying not to succumb to the pressure I feel to not wear one. I hope I can stay steadfast and nobody confronts me about wearing a mask. I just want people to mind their own business.


The third thing to not really shock me, but just be a noticeable difference, is my ability to understand what everyone is saying around me. In Japan I could catch maybe every tenth word in a sentence or identify key phrases due to them being used repetitively, but overall, had no idea what anyone was saying, and it was like this for six years. To come back and have no language barriers whatsoever--it was welcome, but at the same time, a little overwhelming!


Another thing to sort of knock me off my feet was seeing how while some things change, other things stayed exactly the same. For example, I thought all American food would taste overpowering to me, or that I'd forget what some food tasted like, but aside from pizza and some cheeses, most foods were exactly how I remembered them, and some of them tasted extra good, like a particular brand of sugar cookie I've always liked. I got to eat some of my favorite foods once I got back, and that was a delight. I'm worried I'm going to gain weight though because I keep diving into my favorite foods, and a lot of those foods are sweet. But I have stopped drinking soda. I haven't had any for 17 days at the time of posting this. And I used to drink three 20-ounce bottles a day!


Other shockers: the price of everything going up while servings have gone down, and the lack of availability of certain foods and products. My mother had a serious talk with me, as I will be living with her until I'm financially stable again, and I have to be far more conscious of the amount of food I'm eating and to try to stretch things out because they're unavailable or got really expensive. As of writing this, I'm unemployed, and I could hardly take any money home with me from Japan because I had to leave it all in my bank account there to pay for July bills and taxes come March, so any leftover funds (like the flight reimbursement coming to me) aren't accessible until April 2023. So I'm unable to contribute to the household financially until I've got money coming in. So I definitely need to be extremely considerate to my mother, who is helping me out substantially, and that means watching how much I consume. In Japan, aside from things being unavailable due to the season, I pretty much could get whatever I wanted for reasonable prices, and the price gouging didn't happen over there like it has in the USA. So I took for granted being able to get things as I needed them, and I can't do that here. I can't be selfish.


It's been hard breaking some habits I acquired while living in Japan. When the people at the bank helped me, I bowed to them while saying "thank you." When I needed to find something at the store, I said "eto" to myself instead of "um." I want to say "otsukarasama deshita" to everyone who has worked hard and completed a task. I warned my friends that at some point I'll probably break out with an "eeeeeehhhhhhh?"


I also struggle with acknowledging how much time has truly passed. My friend's kids are so big. We've all grown older. I've grown older. I came back with a streak of gray hair at my roots and a mole on my face that doubled in size in the past month (which I should probably see a doctor about). I also came back at my heaviest weight I've ever been in my life, so I'm sure that shocked people.


It was so, so nice to hug everyone though. That felt really, really good.


As I continue to settle in, the next things on the agenda that are very important are getting back to driving (including taking the driver's test again), getting a job (or two if full time isn't available), and setting up all of my medical and dental care. I'm nervous about all of it. Please wish me luck!