Jeremy Abroad

How it feels to be back in the U.S. after 4 months in South America

June 05, 2018

I almost titled this “Back in America after 4 months in South America”, but after going to South America I’ve realized how arrogant it is to refer to the U.S. as America.

Feels weird to be back home and hear people speaking in English. I almost feel like a foreigner in my own home country. I like this feeling because everything I used to take for granted feels new, though I oddly miss hearing Spanish/Portuguese everywhere despite me not being fluent. The border control officer was actually very pleasant, which was a nice change of pace from the many rude ones I’ve dealt with in the past.

Things that are nice (at least in the moment):

  • Being able to communicate
  • Shared background with everyone
  • Return policies. Stability. Knowing I can get anything done
  • Being able to drink out of a water fountain / tap water
  • Being able to flush toilet paper down the toilet

Things that stand out to me:

  • People are very diverse. There’s really no “average American” in terms of physical appearance. You’ve got white, black, Asian, Latin, indigenous, middle eastern, you name it. Despite white people being 60–80% of the U.S. population, it feels like they’re a minority.
  • People are noticeably fatter
  • The land is very sparsely developed. On the ride from the airport I mostly saw trees and undeveloped land with the occasional medium-sized building. In a city like Tokyo, Sao Paulo, or Bogota I’d be riding through a concrete jungle. Even in New York City, outside of Manhattan it’s not very dense.

Route 1, the main highway nearby with chain restaurants and giant parking lots sprawled out is just as bland and uninspiring as ever. I don’t actually remember seeing anything resembling a Route 1 in South America. In South America and the rest of the world they like to give people the option of not being dependent on a car, so the chain stores would be more within walking distance of each other and consolidated inside malls.

The one benefit to sprawl is that you get more room and more quiet. I’m always impressed returning to my family’s house especially since it’s always a little nicer every time I come back due to renovations. It’s spacious and the only ambience I hear is the faint sound of birds chirping.

I did just find out that my parents got rid of the spare cars, so now there are only 2 family cars that my parents both use to commute to work. So now I’ll be carless except at nights and on weekends. Without a car here I can’t really go anywhere. Public transit doesn’t really exist — the nearest subway station is a 1 hour 20 minute walk away, or a 35 minute bus ride. I’ll basically be dependent on Uber (10 years ago before Uber I would’ve just been screwed).

As a result, staying here at my parents’ house has become less appealing than it already was, which may not be a bad thing if it gets me more motivated to work my way out. And now that I can’t drive to Chipotle maybe I’ll finally learn how to cook…

Jeremy Bernier

Written by Jeremy Bernier who left the NYC rat race to travel the world, work remotely, and find the meaning of life.