19 May 2006


There is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing around with scrapbooks.

For the ex-expat, or in my case, the exchange student long returned to her home country, it is uniquely fulfilling to share one's stories from abroad to a willing ear. A coworker and I have contracted that every Thursday night we will have a gourmet dinner and listen patiently to the other's scrapbook stories. It is a long-awaited release, a necessary escape valve, an essential therapy.

Note that I said a willing ear. It doesn't help to have someone held there by hostage. Sure, the gourmet dinner helps (brandy sours, salade de chevre chaud, roast chicken, goulash, four French cheeses and gâteau basque à la cerise) but we each understand the near primal need to share our stories. And we ooh and aah like the speaker has just stepped off the plane. God, it feels good.

During this last round of orientations, I told my little sister that she had become my favorite anecdote about re-entry. I remember the first time I came home from France after a full year abroad. I had just experienced the most life-changing, formative ten months, and every time I opened my mouth, a "Well, in France, we..." seemed to fall out. After a few (dozen) repetitions, my little sister would bodily run out of the room. I think that was the lowest point of my re-entry crash.

And now she, in turn, is preparing to spend the fall semester in England. I am torn between my professional urging to talk her through her entry and re-entry process, to help her benefit in ways that I had to find on my own, and my desire to revisit upon her all the hurt she caused me. I know what I will do, ultimately. But the eighteen-year-old in me wants to repay the fourteen-year-old sister. Will this relationship ever change?

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