We’ve all experienced culture shock in some form or another, but what about reverse culture shock? You know – the difficulty adjusting to one’s home country after being abroad for some time?
Kind of strange, isn’t it, to think of someone having to adjust back to something that was so intrinsically a part of who they are, but as someone who has spent more time away from “home” in the last four years than actually being home, I can honestly say that it’s hard being back to “normal life.” REALLY hard.
The more I think of reverse culture shock within the scope of my own experiences, the more I believe it’s not simply about adjusting to a former life. It’s really about people trying to adjust back to a different version of themselves in a specific point in time that has passed and they just didn’t notice because they were too busy traveling and changing themselves.
Travel, especially long term travel, changes us. And not just in the “You’ve gained some weight,” or you got a nose piercing or a funky tattoo kind of change, but a real, sometimes imperceptible change that alters our perception of things and the way we react to those things, the way we approach challenges, as well as the new boundaries we’ve created around our accepted comfort zones.
Once these change take place, it’s extremely difficult to go back to a place and expect to pick up right where you left off months, or even years ago. And although all this makes sense intellectually, in reality when we leave, our brain freezes a specific moment in time and space and we expect that when we return things will start moving forward again, regardless that friends grow apart naturally, favorite hangouts close due to rising rent, and that little fact you still haven’t quite accepted, but just can’t ignore anymore about how you’re no longer the same person you once were.
Of course, distance truly does make the heart grow fonder and I’ve also come to understand that in some ways, perhaps I’ve romanticized my past relationships. In my fondest of memories, I’ve forgiven the congested streets of New York City, the exorbitant prices of everyday items such as toilet paper and fresh vegetables, the friends who are terrible at responding to emails or text messages, or the ones who disappear as soon as a new boyfriend enters the picture (99% of my friends are either gay or female – there is never talk about girlfriends in my social world), and for goodness sakes, what is THAT smell?!?! Yes, I have forgotten all this and more.
So where does that leave me, or anyone else who suffers from this special brand of reverse culture shock? Well, to be honest, it leaves us alone. Life goes on, with or without us, and no matter how much we thought we wanted something to be, sometimes it just isn’t and we’ve got to accept it.
And we do. It’s one of those lessons we learned while traveling, just one of the many that has helped us grow, evolve, and change. Coming home isn’t what we expected it to be and so we start anew, like we’ve been doing almost every day abroad - we move forward, live our lives, and continue to have amazing experiences, seeing this familiar place that is now almost entirely different and hanging out with friends we once knew but now (and let’s be honest here), may not know very well anymore. Only we do this with new eyes, one that views the world in a way that better reflects the changed people we are today in this particular space and time.