It was finally over. I’d been in China a month, and my life had turned upside-down. My perspective, my experiences, and how I saw myself and others. They’d all changed. It was one of the best things I’d ever done, but I was also ready to be home. I couldn’t wait for cold water (to drink), western toilets, my own shower, and, at the top of my list, some Jamba Juice. Also, I wanted to see all of my friends and family and tell them about my many adventures. These were the type of things I was constantly thinking about one year ago at the end of my first Dragons trip. But then my instructors began to mention a word I had never heard before: transference. At that time, it seemed pointless to help transition us BACK to the United States. Why would I need help with that? That was home; that was what is normal.
One year later, and I’m preparing for my second round of Dragons transference. Just like before, I’m having those same fantasies of my own shower, bed, and being able to Google anything anytime I want, but I’m also thinking back on the experience of returning home last time, and I can only describe it as mania. I was given my cell phone back in Hong Kong International Airport, and I immediately and obsessively updated myself on all the most recent happenings, as well as posting on Snapchat and other social media. I only relaxed when I got into my best friend’s car at the Denver International Airport, and then I realized that it was truly over.
The transition had happened fast; too fast. My mom and my best friend bombarded me with questions and told me about what had been happening in their lives for the past month. I think I was in shock, and I think that at some point I told them to shut up. I couldn’t make myself be interested in anything that they were saying. I felt awful. I know now that this was the reverse culture shock that my instructors had tried to prepare me for. I hardly remember my first few days back, but I do remember publicly crying at a Jamba Juice. I finally took that hot shower I had been wanting so badly too: it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. Everything I had been dreaming for was right there in front of me— smoothies, hot showers, Western toilets, fresh salads— but I suddenly didn’t crave it the same way I thought I would. I understood then that those 13 strangers that I had just spent a month with, along with other Dragons alumni, might be the only people in the world that could understand what I was going through.
On my way home from my previous Dragons program, I had a layover in LAX on my return journey. There was another Dragons student there who had just finished a different Dragons program. I had only said two words to this guy before, and I didn’t know him at all, but we sat together in the LAX airport California Pizza Kitchen as if we had known each other for years. We asked each other “So, how was your trip?”, a question that we would both get asked many more times soon thereafter. But unlike when non-Dragons folks asked me, it was easy to answer him. We had a bizarre common language and a common motivation and objective in traveling to the other side of the world: Where There Be Dragons.
I didn’t have an answer for him exactly, but the struggle in trying to package my experience for him, he understood that. Even though I couldn’t fully express it, the trip was life changing. It was spectacular. I could go on and on for hours talking about it, but as I found out during my transition home, people didn’t really want to hear about it. Dragons had told me that when people ask me how my trip was, depending on the person and the circumstances, they will either be looking for the 10 second account, the 30 second account, or, perhaps, an even longer version. The person that wants a full account, a true account, and can understand the account, that type of person is very rare. To this day, a year after the end of my first Dragons course, I’m not sure I’ve really told anyone about it in its entirety, not even my own mother.
So this is what I want to share with my current fellow Dragons students: even though it may seem like there is nothing better in the whole world than your dog, your bed, or the front door to your house, a hot bath, a Chipotle burrito, or getting re-connected on social media or with friends, I hope that I can convince you that those things won’t be what you actually care about when you get home. You will care about sharing your experience and your changes. Although your formal Dragons course is soon coming to an end, your experience has just begun. Savor your last few days abroad and welcome into your life the possibility of a new way of looking at the world, because you won’t fit the same in your old one.