Reverse Culture Shock

So many people talk about the culture shock you experience when you leave your country and visit a completely different culture, but what about the culture shock you experience when you return home from a long stint of traveling. This culture shock has always been a lot worse for me. I love entering new cultures and learning about them. I adapt well to new situations. I love navigating new cities, meeting new people, and learning new customs. Maybe it is the Anthropologist in me, but cultures are so fascinating to me. The harder part is returning home and realizing how much less exciting my life is in America than it was abroad.

The second I board the plane to a far off land, I am overwhelmed with emotions. I feel scared and sad to leave my friends and family behind, but I also feel ecstatic and beside myself with happiness. I never sleep on international flights, because I’m way too excited. I can’t wait to touch ground on new soil. I want to wander aimlessly in a new place, eat strange things from street vendors, and explore buildings older than the United States. I want to climb mountains and look out at vistas unparalleled by anything else.

Of course, there are comforts from home that would be preferred in other cultures, such as modern sanitation. Toilets are always my biggest gripe while traveling. There is never any toilet paper and if there is you must put it in the waste bin instead of the toilet. Also, in a lot of countries, toilets are merely holes in the ground. This takes a lot of getting used to. The first thing I appreciate when returning home is a nice porcelain toilet that flushes itself. This isn’t enough to deter me from traveling abroad to non-Western cultures though.

The beauty of travel is waking up each morning knowing the biggest decisions you have to make for the day are what sights will you go see, will you swim in the ocean, what foods will you try, and if you should just relax in the hammock or explore. There is minimal stress. The every day things that weigh on you back home, cease to exist abroad. You don’t have to worry about going to work, waking up early every morning, what to do with your future, etc. Life is just simplified.

I camped on a secluded island off of Cambodia with my sister and we literally had three choices each day: snorkel/swim in the turquoise sea, read a book in the hammock, or hike around the island and hang out with other travelers. It was so glorious. You begin to realize that the least decisions you have to make, the better. There is so much less stress!!

Time is also not a big issue unless you are trying to catch a bus, train, or plane, otherwise you lose track of the day of the week and live by the sun. This is so relaxing, because you don’t have to constantly check your watch or phone. You just live and let the day flow naturally. When you are at home, or at least when I am, I feel constantly aware of the time. At work, I check it every ten minutes to see if it is any closer to 4:30pm. At home I check it to make sure I’m not staying up too late. Time ceases to exist while you are traveling. It takes a day or two to adjust to the jet lag and time change, but eventually you don’t need to be aware of the time or day of the week any more and can just relax. When I return home, I’m immediately reminded of time. I must keep track of time again. I need to get up for work, go to bed at a certain time, and make it to appointments. It is a hard pill to swallow.

I always teetered on the fine line between being an introvert and an extrovert. I don’t do well in big crowds of people. I am usually great one-on-one though. Then I traveled and that all changed. When I’m traveling, especially alone, I am the boldest, most extroverted woman you’ll meet. I’m not afraid to go up to strangers and strike up conversations. I make so many friends from all over the world. Then I return home and I feel shy again. There is something about traveling that makes me throw my fears out the window, especially my fear of talking to strangers. I don’t have to worry so much about what people think of me, because I may never meet them again. That opens me up to being more confident. It is tough when I return home and those old insecurities flood back in and it becomes a lot more difficult to make new friends or talk to strangers. I have tried to bring more of that attitude back with me.

Another thing that takes some getting used to abroad, but ultimately is something I love, is hearing so many foreign languages around me at all times. It is tough at first when you don’t hear English (outside of English speaking countries) and the conversations surrounding you are in French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Chinese, etc. You can’t really eavesdrop on anyone, unless you speak another language. I get so used to this though, that when I return to the States, I find it boring that everyone is speaking English around me and I actively seek out communities where they speak other languages.

All of these things make returning home worse for me. I experience pretty bad culture shock when I get back. I cry the whole flight home; sad to leave all the wonderful places I’ve gotten to know and the friends I’ve made. I am excited to see my friends and family again, but no one understands how life changing of an experience it was. Everyone asks the same questions, like “what was your favorite place?” I just want to curl up in bed and not go out. I miss the excitement of each day being different. I miss the new people you meet each day. I cry over the romances that ended as fast as they started. I’m devastated and can’t adjust back into normal life. I feel stressed by routines and time. I want the freedom back. It takes me at least a month to adjust back and then within 6 months, I’m dreaming up my next adventure. Only people with a true travel addiction can understand this affliction. It is just never enough. I need more places, more people, more adventure.

I call this reverse culture shock, because you are actually more shocked by home than the foreign place. It is hard to adjust and hard to accept. I’d give anything to land on foreign soil again soon. Life is so drab at home. I crave the challenges of backpacking. I crave newness. If you travel a lot, you will understand.



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