Thursday, April 12, 2012

Reverse culture shock

Based on the distance between my last four posts, it seems like I've narrowly avoided becoming a blogging addict. Hooray!

But alas, one last post is needed as the final piece of the study abroad experience- coming back home. Bucknell loves the term re-entry, others love reverse culture shock, and some people are just stubborn and silly and call it "returning to the US". I tend to prefer reverse culture shock or, more elegantly, "I'M BACK AMURICA." (I'll be using various terms here. No need to be fancy all the time.)

So, unless you've been living under a rock (or simply don't know someone who's gone abroad), you probably know that coming back is difficult. It's great to see friends and family again, but after all that you've experienced it's hard to fit back into your old place. It's not just adjusting back to America (I found this to be pretty easy, actually), but adjusting back to campus, small towns, etc. can be a separate adjustment and is often harder.

In addition, I think there are two different parts to this "re-entry" business: adjusting back to the old culture, and adjusting back to the old routine. When you come back from vacation, sometimes you are upset to go home because you miss the place you were, and other times you just don't want to go back to work or school on Monday. It's a lot like that. The less similar the place, the harder the first is; the longer the vacation, the harder the second is. (Well, I think so.)

I've had both kinds of experiences, and they definitely feel different. Guatemala was type 1- I missed it terribly but fell back into routine and eventually adjusted. Coming back from the UK was a much different experience. Sometimes there are pangs of "Oh man, remember when we rode the tube everyday?" or "I would give anything to eat gelato in a Roman alley right now." But mostly, it's just weird to be back. It's like your body has accepted its way of life and now rejects home in the States as a foreign body. Some things are easy to come back to- I love my bed and working dryers and 1% milk. Some things are hard, like realizing how small (and boring) Mays Landing and Lewisburg are, and feeling like the world has done a half rotation without you. But the overwhelming feeling is just weird. After skyping my mom once a week, it was so strange to actually live with her everyday for a month. It was super weird to think that freshman I had never seen had been on campus for a whole semester, and that so much had happened without me. It was weird that I was not allowed in bars after having gone to pubs on class trips. I what made this especially true for me is that I was happy to be back from abroad, but I really didn't want to adjust to being back at Bucknell. Being gone for a whole semester, though, wiped out most of my previous notions of "this is normal and ok". It felt like freshman year all over, as once again I had to get used to what life is like here.

My personal experience, though, was a little complicated, and everyone honestly has a different experience. I left a lot of stress in London and came back to a lot of stress in Lewisburg. Between friend issues, responsibilities, excessive schoolwork, etc. etc., it was a bit overwhelming and kind of jarring. I was ready to just go somewhere new and start over again. I think that seemed easier than what settling down to Bucknell was going to involve. And even though everyone has a different experience of reverse culture shock, it was really nice to have other people around who similarly pined for foreign foods and were completely over the typical small town culture. It's nice to know you are not the only who wants to be somewhere else, and that it's okay feel that way. People who have studied abroad in your country are especially effective in dealing with Type 1 culture shock, but they are helpful either way. If you aren't going home with your friends from abroad, the transition back will likely be much harder. But it is do-able. Find people who went to another country and talk to them. Find someone to share with who can understand what you're going through. It helps.

Just a fair warning- things will be different when you come back. You will be different, your friends in the States will be different, life will be different. But you will figure it all out. You will get through it, and things will stop feeling quite so weird. Honestly. Campus is comfortable again. Freshman don't make me nervous anymore. All is well. But I can remember Roman fountains, and French baguettes. I remember Bible study in Starbucks and singing the National Anthem at 3 am. And of course, I remember so many cats and so many scarves and so many trains. And I am planning on making as many memories as possible before my mind turns to mush and I start watching Finding Bigfoot all day, everyday.

Maybe the last 30 second summary ever: Adjusting back to the States and then to campus can suck, a lot. But you'll be alright. I get by with a little help from my friends.

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