When Alice fell down the rabbit hole, she landed in another world. All of us live that Wonderland moment as we come home to another culture. For almost half of my life, I have been making that once upon a time journey on both sides of the Atlantic. As we jumped from one airport pond to the next in June, we came ever closer to Cincinnati and the girls told me they were waiting for that ‘America smells like this‘ sensation that tells them their feet are firmly planted on USA soil.
Just 2 weeks ago, we retraced our hops through Paris and into Budapest. As our plane landed, I pinched my achingly tired body to ask if it felt like I was coming home.
For chronic travelers, the airport is our first peek into the other world at rabbit hole’s end. Unfamiliarly familiar faces, expected smells, familiar language, a comfortable chair after a long journey. For Alice, it was a wonderfully new world. For us, it is a wonderfully familiar yet different world.
And we are different people here.
The other side of the real person that we are in our passport country peeks out and stretches.
While the core of who we are remains the same, our European nuances must click into gear and engage. This world is different. Not better. Not worse. Just different.
And it feels wonderfully like home.
My self-inflicted pinch at journey’s end was an intentional, internal check. For 13 years, coming home was the Sofia airport; a well-loved, Balkan baba waiting to embrace us with the warmth of bread and salt. Transitioning over these past 24 months has meant a continual mourning for the home of our beloved Bulgaria. We miss everything Balkan because Hungary is not. It is its own unique central European culture.
In July, I found my heart hiding in a summer-cupboard, longing for what is to be in Hungary. Loving a new culture begins where the rabbit hole ends, in a new world, with new expectations, new faces, new languages, and topsy-turvy realities that quickly become a part of who you are becoming.
We are home again.