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?