Readjusting to the Mainland 101 – “Rossie Rehabilitation”

So this past weekend marked the end of seventh semester for the Ross University class the Mister and I started with back in April of 2013. Green semester has returned home to the mainland, and our friends are struggling a little with the transition back to first-world life. So, since the Mister and I have been back stateside for almost a year now, we’ve (well, I’ve) decided to help “rehabilitate” the island-dwellers with an orientation course of sorts.

So, in the spirit of what I used to call “Top Ten Thursdays,” here are ten lessons recently-returned Rossies should keep in mind during this transition period.

  1. Intersections: There are stop signs and traffic lights here, and you do actually have to stop a few times between your house and your destination. Yes, I know it’s annoying, but it’s the way things are here. Google the rules about turning arrows, right of way and right on red because you’ve probably forgotten how to handle those.
  2. Passing other drivers: There is a thing here called a “double yellow line.” There are also sometimes things called “passing lanes.” Familiarize yourself with their meanings and purposes, because they are important. Don’t do like I did and fly around somebody in the oncoming lane just because you can… because my person turned out to be the mailman, but your person might turn out to be a cop.
  3. Police: If your person that you flew around on a double yellow DOES turn out to be a police officer, don’t offer him or her money. I know that was the accepted thing on the island, but it’s sort of frowned upon here on the mainland.
  4. Money: Prices here are in U.S. dollars. All prices – not just things at fancy hotels. The U.S. dollars are the green ones; the money with all the colorful sea turtles doesn’t work here, so don’t try. At first you will mentally multiply everything by three and add import and VAT taxes to find the price in EC and then think, “This is only $20. $20! Can you believe it? We can afford 15 of them!” But don’t. Just because that shower curtain costs $3 US and not $25EC doesn’t mean you need one in every color. This will be hard, so stay strong.
  5. Technology: When you return to the States, you will likely acquire some sort of Smart Phone. Or at least a phone with speaker capabilities (unless you’re me and the Mister, who still haven’t gotten there yet). These phones are very complicated and can do things like actually call the person you want to call, deliver text messages on time and sometimes even talk to you. Do not be afraid – that voice is contained within the phone and won’t come out to strangle you in your sleep. Yet. (Also, people here expect you to carry your phone with you at all times and answer it reliably. This is a skill I have not yet remastered.)
  6. Air conditioning: There is another wonderful thing here called “air conditioning.” It’s this thing where you tell a little box on the wall how hot or cold you want it to be in your house, and cold air comes out of the walls to make you happy. It’s wonderful. Use it as much as you want. It’s not free, but there is no reason the bill should be $900 a month (and if it is, complain. This is not considered “normal” here.).
  7. “American” time: Time passes much more quickly here on the mainland than it does on the island. It is not normal for food to take an hour to reach your table, and if it does you will probably get it for free. Also, you will be expected to get to places “on time,” which means at or before the time the event is scheduled to begin. You can’t simply assume the event won’t start for another hour and show up then. That’s not how it works here.
  8. Fast food: Speaking of food not taking an hour, there is even an entire eating genre called “fast food.” You can drive next to a building, tell a little talking box what you want to eat, and you can be eating it in five minutes or less! You will probably gain some weight in these transition months, because who doesn’t want to eat something you can have in five minutes?! But try to control yourself. You’ll thank me later.
  9. Centipedes: Be sure to check your luggage, anything in your luggage and the areas around your luggage thoroughly for stowaways. It has happened. My in-laws didn’t see a single ‘pede while on the island, but managed to bring two of them home last year. (Don’t worry; they were immediately extinguished and a centipede uprising was prevented on American soil.) After the initial check, you can relax. The centipedes here do not bite, are not poisonous and will not make a home out of your pillow cases. However there will be a long period where you may freak out in front of your neighbors when that long black smudge on the wall looks like it might attack. Develop a cover story for this situation early so your new friends don’t think you’re simply crazy and afraid of moving shadows. *shudder*
  10. Seasons: They change here. You’ve spent the last two years and four months on a tropical island where the only seasons are “raining” and “not raining.” Here, it will start to get cold in about two months. Sooner for those of you resettling in the northern part of the country. I know you probably haven’t seen a sweater or a pair of thermal leggings since 2013, but you’re gonna want to find those, and soon. You’re probably shivering right now, since anything under 78 degrees feels like the arctic. You’ve also discovered the air conditioner at this point, so you’ll want to bundle up in those jeans and hoodies just for the sake of cranking that beautiful central air unit all the way down and bragging about it to your friends.
  11. BONUS! Grocery shopping: You do not have to shake all the pasta boxes to find one without bugs. You do not have to put your cereal, rice and noodles in the freezer to kill the weevils. You should never have to skim floating insects off the top of your boiling water again. You also have a significantly increased expectation that the milk and dairy products you’ve selected will still be good the next day. Or, for that matter, later that same day when you open the container and take that first sip. And if you run out of something – YOU CAN DRIVE DOWN THE STREET AND BUY SOME MORE! (Although keep #4 in mind at all times.) Mind-blowing, isn’t it?

Take notes. There will be an exam.

Happy homecoming to you all, and may the force be with you.

-The Missus

Ohana

“Ohana” is a Hawaiian word introduced to most of us non-Hawaiian people through the movie Lilo and Stitch. In a dictionary it means family, in an extended sense, and includes “chosen family” as well as blood relations. However, I think Lilo explains it best when she says, “Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.

I have a wonderful biological family and an equally wonderful in-law family, and I’ve had many sets of “chosen families” over the years, the closest being the group of young women I lived with in college. However, it wasn’t until one night a few weekends ago that the true meaning of “ohana” really sank in deep.

I was with a group of friends laying out by a pool at midnight looking for shooting stars, listening to soft music and laughing about whatever was funny at the moment. There was a long moment of silence as we all scanned the sky and it occurred to me that we are a group born of desperation. We are a cluster of people that probably would never have been friends if we’d all gone to our chosen stateside schools. We likely never would have met. We didn’t come together simply because we lived in the same dorm or happen to go to the same school; we bonded out of nervousness and fear of the great unknown that was this unfamiliar place and have formed an unlikely bond that – quite possibly – is stronger than anything else. We are ohana. We are each other’s closest companions and strongest rocks in the storms of St. Kitts life.

We consist of two Floridians, five southerners (some more so than others), a girl from Michigan and a girl from Oregon. We have pessimists, optimists and who-cares-ists. The youngest is 22 and the oldest is about to be 30. We have two married couples, one engaged couple, two single girls and one with a boyfriend back home. We are Greek, Hispanic, Native American and just plain who-knows. We come from all sorts of family and religious backgrounds and don’t always see eye-to-eye on everything, but the innate knowledge that we are all we have keeps us together regardless of our arguments.

Yet we are the same. We are all working toward the common goal of becoming veterinarians (six of us students, three of us spouses). We are all far away from home – many for the very first time – and we have all been separated from all the people, places and things we hold dear and tossed onto this rock hundreds of miles from real land. I think the RUSVM bond is probably greater than that of other vet students at stateside schools because they at least have the familiar, the knowledge that home is a car trip or a short flight away; but us… we only have each other. Sure, we all have friends and family waiting for us back home, but when something happens here and help is needed, we don’t have the luxury of a visit from Mom with hot chicken soup; we don’t always even have the ability to call home. Without each other, we would flounder; but together, we’ve learned how to swim.

We started out with our original orientation group from first semester, when nobody knew anybody or where anything is or how anything works here. We stuck together because we were required to. Now we’ve added a few stragglers from other orientation groups and picked up a former Black semester. The Mister isn’t in the same classes anymore, after having had to repeat a semester, but we’re still together every chance we get and they are always quick to offer him any advice or materials they have to help him succeed. No one is left behind or forgotten.

I write this long, sappy post to say this – I am eternally grateful for the ohana we have found here; for those we have chosen and for those who have chosen us in return. I don’t know where we would be or how we would get through this without them, and I hope they know they can count on us as well. The saddest part about repeating a semester is knowing we will not finish this journey with them, that we will have a semester on this island alone after they have moved on to greater things. But I have a feeling we will find each other again along the way, whether in clinicals, at professional conferences or at weddings and other special events. We will find each other, because we are ohana, and no one will be forgotten.

The Island of Missing Items

There are a great many things I never expected to say in my life. “Honey, there’s a problem with one of our back windows, but don’t worry, I think it’s still there,” is one of them. (Because the idea that it might NOT be there – that it might have suddenly decided to detach itself and plunge to an untimely death in the middle of the bypass – is a real possibility.)

One of the rear windows on our car is spontaneously missing. No big deal. It’s just another random thing that we suddenly can’t find anymore. Happens all the time.

Although, in the case of this window, I do believe it’s still there. It seems to have somehow been rolled down all the way (sometime in the last two hours) and now refuses to roll back up; although I have no idea when it would have been rolled down since the Mister and I never use those windows and the dog spent her entire car ride to the clinic standing on the center console – so she wasn’t anywhere near the windows to have accidentally rolled one down. Who knows. I have no idea how to fix it or replace it, so it’s being added to the growing list of things that are wrong with our vehicle. Welcome to island life.

But I mentioned other things that are suddenly gone from our lives, didn’t I? A pair of purple water shoes I brought from the States and remember having in our dorm room… gone. A handful of puzzle pieces that were put together on the coffee table… gone. Various other items that I remember packing into boxes when we left our last house… gone. I remember unpacking them at one place and then don’t remember packing them and getting them to the next place (yet there was nothing left at the old house or in our dorm room). No idea what happens to them in the interim.

The puzzle pieces are a special mystery, since I had the outside border and two inches on the bottom assembled, yet the only pieces disturbed were a dozen or so on one corner. The rest were untouched. The only viable conclusions seem to be A) The dog ate them [unsure, since more of the puzzle would have been destroyed in the process and there was never any evidence of the San Francisco skyline in her poop.]; B) Something, maybe a bird, flew in through the open porch doors and stole a dozen pieces; or C) This house is haunted.

My secret conclusion is that this island is not really an island at all, but some sort of giant dormant sea creature which is quietly absorbing random objects and using them to create an evil plan to rid itself of the parasitic humans living on its back.

Or something like that. I could be a bit hazy on the details. But I am certain it will be wearing my purple water shoes when it’s all said and done.

We’re all in this together.

One thing that consistently surprises me here is the overall attitude that “we’re all in this together.” (My sincerest apologizes if that sparked a High School Musical sing-along in your head. Sorry about that.)

I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve mentioned on Facebook that I needed to go to a certain place and quickly had three students or other VIPs willing to drive me. Or asked about a good place to get a haircut or where to find a store that sells green peppers and had dozens of suggestions in response, including driving directions, prices, specific people to talk to and offers to take me if I needed a ride. (I even mentioned that the Mister and I needed ideas on where to stay in the gap between leaving the dorm and our apartment being ready, and almost instantly had someone offer to let us stay in his empty house while he went home over the break. Amazing!)

And it’s not just limited to the VIPs who have little better to do all day. The students, while competitive, are still largely willing to help each other out. Their specialized Facebook pages are homes to dozens of uploaded PowerPoint slides, old test examples, diagrams and even audio recordings of lectures from those who have recorders for those who do not. The general sentiment is that everyone wants everyone else to do well and be happy so we can all survive the experience and get off this island as soon as possible.

Everyone has had enough free favors done for them that they are willing to “pay it forward” to help another lost, far-from-home student or VIP out in their time of trouble. Everyone here has been in that position before – out of phone minutes at the grocery store with no ride home; car broken down on the side of the road; going crazy in the dorm room because you don’t have a ride to where the fun is; needing a certain recipe ingredient to make your special comfort food, but not being able to find it anywhere; not knowing how to deal with the overwhelming homesickness that attacks even the most traveled among us. They’ve all been there. And now we’ve all been there. And all we can continue to do is pass the wisdom and the favors down to the next incoming generation of Rossies.

So I can only conclude this short post by saying, to any future or potential Rossies who might be out there: You’ll be homesick. You’ll be confused. You’ll be frustrated beyond belief. You’ll have days when you want to just throw up your hands, kick your busted tires over a cliff and give up on it all. But don’t worry. Someone will be there to help you fish those tires out of the ocean, patch them up and follow you home. Because at the end of the day, you are one of us, and we don’t leave anyone behind.