Reverse Culture Shock | Travel Tuesday

Reverse Culture Shock

One of my most precious memories. That first hug from my Daddy after my first year abroad!

Last week I wrote about culture shock and some things that go along with that. This week, I want to talk about reverse culture shock- a very real, very shocking experience.

As a returned from my first time living abroad, I felt so different and out of place. It was hard to figure out why I felt like it because here I was, back in my childhood home, where everything and everyone I knew was, but I felt like I didn’t quite fit. Everything felt almost right, but still felt a little… off.

Things had changed during my year abroad. I had changed, too.

During my “re-entry” retreat with other exchange students, someone voiced my feelings so simply and so well I couldn’t help but just say YES and feel understood. Finally. They said that coming home was like moving to a new host family’s house, only you already knew what drawer the silverware was in.

This hit me as such truth because it was- the family here was familiar, of course, but also new. They way we interacted was new. The culture was new again- not what I’d been living for the past year and what I was used to. English? Pshh, at that point I was thinking and speaking in Spanish. Translating every thought and word to English was now almost as exhausting as my first couple months in Mexico. I was lonely- something I wasn’t used to feeling anymore.

I was confused- I was home, wasn’t I? Wasn’t I supposed to come back in and feel like I belonged here? This is where I grew up, after all. This town, this house, this language, and this culture. It was mine, right?

Right. But also wrong. Both myself, and the home and community I came from had grown and changed in the year I’d been away. It was a whole new version of culture shock to adjust back to living in the US, and in my little town in Idaho.

This seems to happen almost every time I come back from another country, but most stands out to me this first time, and when returning from Uganda.

My stomach wasn’t used to this food- I hardly ate, and when I did, hardly kept it down. Tea and dry toast became my foods of choice. My heart longed for the forests and dirt roads and children and nuns that I loved with. Speaking in American English was, again, strange to speak as my mouth struggled to remember how to form the words and thoughts I needed. I remember my first (of quite a few) public crying spells. My sweet mama went shopping with me to get a few new things before I headed off to college. I began crying in the middle of the shirts as I realized that- while reasonably priced for the USA- one shirt could pay for a year of several of my kids’ education. I felt guilty for wanting more when I already had so much in this life.

Of course, with time, I adjusted back to life in the USA, and accepted that a part of each culture I’ve lived in will be a part of me. A piece of my heart was left behind, and that’s ok. I am a better person for the traveling and living I’ve done- each place changes me and I grow. Acknowledging and recognizing this helps me to be able to love traveling and learning just that much more.

Have you ever experienced reverse culture shock? How did it effect you?

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9 thoughts on “Reverse Culture Shock | Travel Tuesday

  1. Nancy

    I lived in Germany for two years when I was younger. I immediately loved it there and clicked with everything! Then when I had to come home (Texas) I was devastated! I cried so much. I hated the states and how dirty everything was (Germany recycles EVERYTHING). I honestly wanted to run away while I was in Germany to stay with my family there. I was 9 so of course I was just being dramatic. It took me a while to adjust when I moved back. Even today I am a little bitter I had to return.

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  2. Ashliegh

    I felt this way after returning to the USA after studying in Costa Rica. Reverse culture shock is so hard to deal with. I love how you said that you’ve left a piece of your heart in each place that you’ve visited as I feel the same way!

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  3. Mary

    Wow, what an interesting situation I hadn’t considered before. It’s amazing how different cultures can be, and yet we don’t even realize it until we have experienced a different one. My friend in college always used to say, he knew he was getting comfortable when his dreams would be in English (instead of Portuguese his native language).

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