Home for the Holidays – Winter Break Trip to the United States

Over my winter break, I went home to the United States. It was an absolutely wonderful trip, and I’m so glad that I went. I was originally not planning on going home over vacation, because I felt I should use the time to travel within Asia. But, tickets were cheap, and I was homesick. And I made the right decision – it was a fantastic trip, and completely worth the jet lag. I was able to go for two and a half weeks, stopping in San Diego CA, Santa Fe NM, and Denver CO. It was a perfect tour across the Southwest, stopping in all the places that feel like home and getting to see everyone that I love. My trip once again made me realize how lucky I am for everyone in my life – for my loving, supportive family, and for all of my fantastic friends.

My mom was waiting to pick me up at LAX, and after a reunion hug like something out of Love Actually, we drove (or she drove, I slept) down to San Diego, where my mom and brother live. I stayed in San Diego for six days, spending quality time with my mom and brother and doing all kinds of Christmas-y stuff. We bought and decorated a Christmas tree, decorated the house, and listened to Ella Fitzgerald, our holiday favorite. I went to the Christmas party at my mom’s work, and we went shopping for all of the American things I missed. We had a lovely Christmas Eve celebration together. We went to an evening church service, then went home and cooked dinner and opened presents. I was happy that I got to have a real Christmas after all.

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My mom, brother, and I on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas day, my brother and I flew to Santa Fe, NM, where we grew up and my dad still lives. We had a delicious Christmas dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Santa Fe was freezing cold, but beautiful, and the stars were out in all their glory. The next day, we drove out to the house where I grew up in Galisteo, which is truly the middle of nowhere. It is a simply stunning landscape, and I appreciate it in a whole new way after living in Tokyo. There is just SO MUCH SPACE – really nothing but space, and sky and cacti and mountains. It felt like the sky was going to swallow me up whole.

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My old house in Galisteo
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Nothing but space and sky

I spent five days in Santa Fe, and was able to catch up with some of my best friends from childhood and high school. We had an old-times sake reunion party at my dad’s house, because that’s where we always used to party in high school (sorry Dad…). We laughed and reminisced and had a wonderful time. My brother and I went to check out Meow Wolf, a very popular interactive art exhibit put on by a local art collective. It is an old building that was bowling alley when I was growing up, and now it’s a super trendy attraction getting a lot of national attention. It was a very cool exhibit, and I would recommend checking it out.

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Reunited…
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and it feels so good!

Just before New Years, my brother and I parted ways, him heading to San Francisco to see his friends, and me heading to Denver to see mine. It was a beautiful, sunny, warm winter day when I arrived in Denver, and it made me remember everything I love about the city. I had the most wonderful New Year’s Eve celebration. It was just three of my closest friends and I. We went to the Brown Palace, the one of the nicest hotels in Denver, and were lucky enough to get a spot in the cigar bar. We were dressed to the nines, drank champagne and smoked cigars, and were just generally classy AF. It was an absolutely perfect way to ring in 2017.

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NYE 2017 at the Brown Palace
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The BFF and I
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Bananna and Clemintine

A couple days after New Years, a huge blizzard rolled into Denver, and I spent the rest of my time in the snow. I caught up with friends, enjoyed American food, and got my nails done (because it’s double the price in Tokyo). I also got my first ever tattoo! It was a
definitely one of the most impulsive decisions I’ve made, but I
absolutely love it. My two best friends and I got giraffe tattoos, as a symbol of our friendship (yes, there’s a whole story behind). Mine is named Clementine, and it is small and perfect and full of meaning to me.

 

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My old stomping grounds in the snow

Being back in the United States felt strange for about a day or so, and then it felt just like I had never left. I didn’t feel any real reverse culture shock, but I did accidentally bow to people a couple times. The main things I appreciated about being home were – first and foremost, seeing my family and friends – then the food, the open space and lack of crowds, the friendliness and frankness of the people, and central heating and insulation. I indulged fully in all the foods I missed the most, mainly cheese, spicy Mexican food, and fresh veggies (and my stomach hated me for it). I enjoyed the ease of communicating in English, and being able to read and understand what I was ordering and buying. I reveled in all the comforts of home with newfound sense of appreciation. Even the smallest things – like getting multiple packets of ketchup at McDonalds, always being able to find a trash can and a water fountain, and driving a car – made me happy. Mostly, I just enjoyed catching up and spending time with my friends and family. Time flies when you’re having fun… and before I knew it, it was time to leave.

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Green chili breakfast burritos are high on the list of what I missed most.

Leaving was not much easier this time around, like I thought it might be. I felt better and more excited about my life in Tokyo, but saying goodbye was just as hard. My flight was super early and I went out with my friends the night before, so I showed up at the airport with no sleep, and cried my way through security. Sometimes I feel pulled between two worlds – torn between my desire to travel and explore and see the world, and the wonderful life and amazing people I have at home. Living abroad is an incredible and fulfilling experience, and I’m so glad that I’m doing it, but it’s not without sacrifice. The sacrifice is being away so far away from those I love for so long, and it’s not always easy. But, we live in an amazing world, with the internet and video-calling, and airplanes and inexpensive, direct flights between the US and Japan. I’m grateful for all of these modern marvels, and I am so grateful for the fact that I was able to go home. Goodbyes are always hard, but I know I’m doing the right thing for myself by being in Japan.

A full day and a half later due to the time difference, I made it back to Tokyo and found my way “home.” My little apartment was just as I’d left it, and it did feel, in a certain sense, like coming home. I’m pretty lucky, to have more than one place in the world that feels like home. And while the first week back in Tokyo has been difficult, it’s also amazing how quickly it’s felt just like back to normal. Leaving might have been just as hard, but arriving was definitely way easier. I’m all set up, I know where I’m going and what I’m doing, and I have wonderful friends here. I have several awesome trips coming up that I’m very excited for, and now that I’m over the jet lag, I can say with confidence that I think it’s going to be a great semester.

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