This is a new category, “Re-Entry”, where I’ll put posts specific to reverse culture shock, en-entry shock, coming home––there are many names for the effects on a traveler coming “home” after living abroad for an extended period of time.
So what’s the big deal about re-entry shock? Culture shock in your host country is understandable. A new language, new people, new social standards––basically, new everything, including toilet paper (if not the toilets themselves). Adjustment is difficult, and homesickness is the exchange student’s worst enemy.
But coming back to a country and lifestyle you’d lived for years (in my case, 16), that should be easy, right?
I thought it would be. I expected that once I got over the little things like a three story house, clean and running water, limitless electricity (in comparison), and throwing the toilet paper in the toilet instead of the trash, things would pretty much go back to normal.
If only this were the case.
You may even feel like you are on a roller coaster—one minute excited to be home and proud to share all you’ve learned, and the next bored or frustrated and feeling out of sync with those people who have always been closest to you.
This is an excerpt from an article by TransitionsAbroad.com, a website on opportunities and advice for those wishing to travel abroad. If you know anybody who has recently returned from time abroad, I encourage you to do some research so you can better understand what your friend is going through.
As I was reading, I felt as if somebody was reading my mind and putting all these feelings jumbled inside into cohesive sentences. It’s almost unnerving how accurate these articles’ descriptions are. My life seems to be that roller coaster, where day I’ll be gloomy and weary of the mundane, and the next, something will have sparked a memory and I can’t help the flood of facts, opinions, and experiences that pour out of my mouth, dominating the conversation for the next five minutes or more, leaving the other unlucky person to fend for themselves.
This list describes it well:
Below are some of the top challenges students face when coming home:
- Nobody wants to hear about our experiences
- It’s hard to explain
- Relationships have changed
- Feelings of alienation; seeing home with critical eyes
- Fear of losing the experience, like storing it away in a souvenir box that we only occasionally look at
- Fear of losing the new friends we have made overseas
High school, after only a few weeks, is arduous to sit through.
There are many people who ask about Panamá, but few who have the background knowledge to truly understand the “long story short” version, and the backstory of Panamá takes too long for the uninformed to sit through.
Even if they do have the time and energy to try to learn about Panamá, where am I suppose to start? I have to explain the entire school system, the politics, the poverty, the people, the culture, etc, before I can even begin to answer their question about what I learned in school.
My best friends from then are still my best friends now… right? I no longer feel completely dependent on my parents… how does this new agreement of independent people sharing a household differ from dependents living with independents?
Every time I see somebody throw away good food, I don’t understand, and a shiver runs up my spine.
Fear of loosing this new mindset is a huge weight on my mind! I don’t want to loose the person I found, yet I fear it’s already too late to save her completely.
Finally, the friends still abroad. I’ve stopped using Facebook as much because it seems most people on there are the people I may never see again.
I would add also that personally, being on time and instant accountability is onerous after living in the relaxed part of a Latin American country. In Changuinola, you’d maybe call if you were going to be 30 minutes or more late. Here, even one minute past the meeting time and you’ve suddenly got the reputation of being unreliable. Same thing with turning in hefty homework assignments the day after they’re assigned, or typing up meeting notes and sending them out to the group ASAP.
Re-entry, folks. It’s a lotta’ fun.