They say coming home from overseas can be just as hard as leaving. After adjusting to a different country and culture, home might suddenly feel like the “foreign” place.

And that’s at least partially true. When I got off the plane in Detroit, I was overwhelmed by the American voices around me. In London, hearing an American accent was like a little hug from home instead of the norm on every street corner. Then there was a moment where I briefly forgot how it felt to ride in a car in America, as a passing panic swept over me when we were driving on the wrong – er, right – side of the road. But other than that and the extreme jet lag, coming home felt like, well, coming home.

Maybe I’m just meant for suburban America, but there was not much transition for me. Giant grocery stores and impatient people seemed completely normal. There were a few moments where I was overwhelmed by the size of the refrigerator, but I was mainly busy reveling in my home’s real water pressure and rolling around on my huge, comfortable bed.

While talking to an engineer about my experiences in London, I realized that no one in this country, aside from the people on my program, really knows what it’s like to work in Parliament. Even those who know quite a bit about British government don’t really know what it’s like to work there. That’s not to say they are uneducated or uncultured, but unless they’ve been there, they don’t know what it’s actually like to work behind the scenes. They can’t relate to the feeling of walking through a palace or receiving top-secret documents by a parliamentary courier. I try to explain — and people are generally interested — but it’s impossible to verbally express the experiences I had in Parliament.

More than that, they haven’t learned what I learned about the world and about themselves during my time in London. “Once in a lifetime” is a phrase we throw around, but now I realize what it means. Not many college students get to work in Parliament for two months and watch the inner workings of British government. For my first couple of weeks in the U.K., I really thought about that a lot, but once I started to get used to the job I took it for granted. No big deal, I work in Parliament, la-di-da-di-da. I settled into the routine of working in Parliament, reading the newspapers and discussing current events.

Now I see how much harder that’s going to be back in Michigan. It’s been incredibly easy to fall back into the isolation of the American bubble. Sure, I watch the news and read newspapers, but keeping up with British politics, and even American politics, takes much more effort than that. Besides, I’m not going to be able to discuss it with the people around me. For the most part, that’s not where their interests lie. Should I learn how to design a boat, I’m in luck, but otherwise I’m stuck talking to myself about British politics.
But I’m not going to give up on telling others about my experiences. Several people have asked me if it’s about Parliament’s rowdiness and whether the Members of Parliament really yell at each other, so I try to explain what it’s like to watch them debate. It might not be necessarily what they’re most interested in, but, hopefully, through my experiences other can learn about the world and themselves like I did this summer.

Erika Mayer can be reached at elmayer@umich.edu.

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