When refugees arrive in the U.S. they aren’t just dumped into the general population, they go through a refugee resettlement agency. The agency greets them at the airport makes sure they have a small amount of cash, drive them to their new home, make sure they don’t have any immediate needs, makes sure there is a hot, culturally appropriate meal, give them a cell phone, and in the coming weeks provide cultural orientation classes, helps them navigate the healthcare system, go to health screenings, get kids enrolled in school, get their necessary documents like social security numbers so they can then get a job and be self sufficient, and do all the intimidating legal stuff like register for the selective service and register their new address with USCIS. Refugees are generally entirely self-sufficient in 3-6 months after arrival. The first 90-180 days are called your Reception & Placement period or R&P for short.
Well ironically I have been here for a little over 5 months and it’s time to close my reception and placement at Exodus. Like our clients the adjustment takes time. As I leave Exodus, even though I don’t want to (like a good number of clients), I am ready. They were kind enough to help my readjustment process—something that is hard for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. It is hard to explain, but America is hard to readjust to. You hear stories of RPCVs wandering around Wal-mart crying hysterically. I experienced that emotion in Europe. I spent hours walking around looking at cheeses simultaneously excited about the delicious options and panicking at the cost. When I came home for my sister’s wedding from Guyana I spent no less than 4 hours wandering around REI just touching items, asking questions about products I had no intention of buying. I did end up buying a few things including a super cool knife made by Bear Grylls, but it was just this overwhelming feeling of convenience and appalling level of greed. It’s hard to articulate really, but coming home is hard. You learn and grow when you are living that far outside your comfort zone and you come back as a new person. Your priorities change. I found that I am a more understanding person, but I have to fight against being an elitist butthead from time to time. There are things I cannot unknow, and it impacts my day-to-day life. There are good things like being better with money. It made me more humble, but less tolerant of injustice—perhaps a good thing. I now have a lot less in common with some of the people I love the most. A piece of me will forever be in Guyana and I miss that piece daily.
Then there is the practical adjustment. I am terrible with my phone. I let it die and forget it about because I went a long time without carrying a phone with me. I am learning about new social media and feel like a grandma because I just really haven’t invested in new social media the way my friends have. I have missed out on movies and music and fashion trends and food trends and come back to a slightly foreign homeland.
I also have renewed faith in my relationships that stood the test of time, distance, and change. I still have amazing people in my life who care about things because I care about them, and genuinely love me for the underlying character traits even if we have less in common. It’s easy to be friends when you see someone every day; it’s much harder to stay friends when you live a world away with limited technology. My family at large has been proud of me even though they don’t always understand me.
And so while I wish I could stay at Exodus longer. I wish I had an 18 month R&P period, but I guess 5.5 will have to do. I am grateful for the smooth transition and the many inspirational people who reminded me how to live in the U.S. Until next time!