A few years back, I went on a study abroad trip to China for a month and came back with small souvenirs and stories for my friends and family. A year after that, I went to visit family friends and the oldest daughter, who was around 8 at the time, upon seeing me, asked in surprise, “what are YOU doing here?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re supposed to be in China!”
I don’t know how my little cousin got it into her head that once I left the country I would indubitably continue to do so, but the notion tugged at me a bit and I felt the desire to fulfill that idea of myself in her head as a constant traveler. When I saw her again and told her that I would be traveling to South Korea, I did it with more than a hint of pride.
* * *
I recently arrived back in the US after a year teaching English in rural South Korea. I expected to get certain questions about South Korea, Japan (where I visited for a week), teaching and generally living abroad. What I didn’t expect was one of the first questions my brother asked me as he drove me home from the airport: “Where are do you want to go next?”
What do you mean “where to next?” I just got home!
The next morning, I was even more surprised by my mother. She’d spent most of my year in Korea lamenting the fact that I was there, but that morning she asked a similar question and then launched into a discussion of places she’d always wanted to go.
When I decided to leave Korea, it wasn’t so much because I was ready to come home as it was that I was ready to stop teaching and living in the small town I was stationed. I had a desire to live and work in Austin, the city I went to college in, but now that I’m back in the states (and honestly, the closer I got to my departure date) I can’t help but start wondering if Austin’s too small for me. It’s a place that I know and love, but while distance has made me love it more, even greater distance has made me look at it more critically. Now that I’m back at home and have a little bit of time to clear my head and try to figure out my next move, the question “where to next?” keeps coming up.
I haven’t quite answered the question yet, but very quickly, I realized that I have to take to time to decide who’s asking the question. Am I attempting to live up to the expectations of my friends and family, am I just being pushed by reverse culture shock wanderlust? Or is whatever I do next truly the best decision for me?
In life and travel, maybe I haven’t taken the time I needed to ask myself what the motivation for my actions are. I’ve only recently realized that I’m somebody who prefers to live abroad rather than travel abroad. That realization, along with several others, gives me more options as I try to figure out my next move. But it also makes it more important to not make a decision based on other people’s expectations.
I haven’t seen my little cousin yet since my return, but I hope that by the time I do, I’ll have a good answer for her when she accuses me of not being where I should.
This story was curated by Doyin Oyeniyi.