Sitting up in bed with the blinds shut, I’m listening to Cornelius and trying to forget the world outside my apartment – the world of schoolwork and slush, of deadlines and frigid temperatures, of routine and normalcy.
I’m nursing an oncoming cold with a bottle of Vitamin Water, but not as heavily as I’m catering to the fitful throws of reminiscence as I scour familiar places via the avenues of the Internet, my wandering mind further enabled by Google Earth. As my mouse flies over frozen images of my old dorm in Seoul, the streets I used to walk, and even the bench where my girlfriend and I used to sit, my own thoughts are drowned in the incessant and intoxicating murmur of memories.
Several years ago, before I took my first trip to South Korea, my home university held a mandatory informational meeting for all study abroad students. A speaker at the meeting discussed culture shock, and explained the progression of it using the metaphor of a horseshoe:
At the cusp of your journey, things seem exciting and new, but it isn’t long before unfamiliarity begins to seep in, causing you to face difficult situations and questions about your self – and you start descending towards the bottom of the shoe. After a while, you inevitably adjust and things start climbing back up – you embrace new aspects of your experience and the culture you’re in, and life gets a lot better.
Yesterday, a friend told me in conversation his theory that, beyond travel, life itself is made up of little horseshoes. I’m inclined to agree – and it seems that every time I hit the bottom of the “U,” my reaction is to fall back into nostalgia, where every memory seems set in 70 degree weather, and where everything makes sense.
But the irony is that the time spent at the bottom of the shoe is the time when you really become who you are, and some of the past moments I thought were the most difficult are the ones I now reflect on for comfort. If only I’d been paying attention then, if only I could wake up now …