Adapting to Superimposed Tribal Affiliations Abroad

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 
Overview: What happens when 70 people, all with varying degrees of travel experience—and life experience—drop their lives to move half-way around the world where a community structure is superimposed on them all? The best reality show couldn’t capture the chaos of our first month on Remote Year.


It’s been a month, and I miss Brooklyn—or rather, the people in Brooklyn. I miss the ones who have proven their loyalty over the years, and the wild newcomers who cautiously enter my local haunts with wide, mischievous eyes. I didn’t join Remote Year to make friends; I wanted to travel without worrying about logistics, write freely, be enveloped by other cultures, and most of all, I wanted to continue to strengthen the parts of myself that are weak so that I can be a better friend to those I care about. Previously, I’d found that traveling forced me to confront the parts I tend to like to bury; the strangers I met along the way provided a risk-free way to experiment with unleashing those demons honestly. I thought that as long as I was traveling, I’d be growing and bettering myself. I was wrong.

This past month, traveling and living with the 70 strangers who also signed up for Remote Year has been undeniably transformative. But it blindsided me, prompting a regression that pulled me back, mentally, to the bowels of hell that were my high school years.

It’s not because of anything any one person said or did that I’ve felt at times overwhelmed by discontent, channeling my inner pissed off teenager. As far as I’ve been able to gather through introspection, it’s because of the sociological dynamics that occur when you take a group of human beings—any group, of any size—and confine them to the same place, declaring them a tribe. In Prague, the organizers attempted to impose unnatural bonding rituals on us reminiscent of what I can only imagine is some cross between a summer camp ritual and Welcome Week at a fraternity. I never attended either, and it wasn’t really on my bucket list.

One of the main things I learned from my previous travels was how to be alone without being lonely. Such a joy was this newfound ability and all it did for my productivity and overall mental health, that I think in the past year while working from home in NYC, I unknowingly began to cross the line between lone wolf and hermit. I constricted my social circle, squeezing out the leaches, the fools, anyone who would drain the well without ever replenishing it. And I cut out the few rare birds who had the ability to send me spiraling down a well of despair because I cared too much and they couldn’t hold me. I learned how to hold myself.

The first month in Prague, being so far away from home and thrust into a tribal affiliation with 70 strangers from very different worlds… it was far more disorienting of a transition than I’d anticipated. I’d kind of expected them to be like me, whatever that means. What I should have guessed though, was that they would be more like the organizers. After all, if God created man in his own image, why wouldn’t they populate their nomadic utopia with people they felt represented or complemented theirs? One night I sat up at night panicking after coming to the realization that I was likely surrounded by people who were into Greek life, small talk and marketing, wondering if I’d somehow managed to escape into my own personal vision of hell.

I cringed as the competitions for the alpha male slot ensued. Nobody won. Every conversation in a group setting involved someone needing to one-up another. Peacock feathers were on full display as they verbally jousted, vying for… I don’t know what. Status? It’s only been a month and so far there have been five injuries. Cliques seemed to materialize left and right, as every event that required leaving the house, even to go a block, was painstakingly organized on Slack so as to not result in one being “without the group.”

I found myself desperately trying to escape the group, wandering alone and slipping out of organized activities early. It wasn’t that I was trying to escape any individual person, I just needed to get away from the sensory overload of the group. I can’t think when my head is filled with chatter, and I certainly can’t write. So I’d peel away, decline invitations, and feel like I did in high school when I’d skip out to smoke cigarettes in the parking lot and chill out with my best friend.

In doing this, I ultimately realized that there are more people like me here than unlike me. I think the universal primate-impulses that were causing the herding, the loudness, the stupid pissing matches that put people in the hospital—they alienated those of us who had moved past that phase in life and pushed us 180 degrees around the circle to meet on the other side and bond, one by one. Now that it’s clear that it’s not just 70 of us stranded together abroad, that it’s the 70 of us and the 70,000 other people surrounding us at any given point as we move around the world, the ones who pushed the hardest to impose a summer camp template on what we were doing will slowly wander over to explore other ways to live.

I didn’t come here to make friends, but the ones I’ve made so far, I wouldn’t trade.

Now here in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where there are no five-story clubs filled with piss-drunk gap year Brits or droves of trashy tourists, where there is an abundance of quaintness and nature and nonstop sunshine, and you can ride into these things on a bicycle at any moment, everyone is starting to chill out. And I’m coming out of my turtle shell, little by little.

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