November 13 2017
Pro tip: If you’re given an opportunity to learn something for free, take it. You have nothing to lose and the stuff you learn might save you from totally losing your shit in public someday.
Many moons ago, when I was a young newlywed about to embark on my first overseas adventure I had the opportunity to take a free workshop for families being stationed abroad. I really hate not knowing things. I don’t care if it’s bad news, I would rather know. The workshop was great because it went over all the dirty details about moving. Your stuff might get broken. Your garbage can might get packed. Or your cat. We also learned that culture shock and its bestie, reverse culture shock, are totally a thing.
I remember being told that most people start out on a high but that the excitement wanes and eventually takes a deep nose dive before stabilizing somewhere between “okay” and “meh.” While this was hard to believe, I was blown away when the instructor explained that we should expect to experience the same highs and lows upon returning to the States. I did not consider myself to be like “most people” so it was shocking when I experienced this roller coaster for myself. I think the reverse culture shock was the most difficult to accept or cope with because how could anyone be sad or angry at coming home?? It’s hoooome. But it happens, even after the second overseas tour.
As we immerse ourselves into a new culture, we become familiar with new practices. We learn the smells, the sounds, and the feel of our new location. We learn to interact with new people. All of this is incorporated into our new identity. Eventually, we become accustomed to our new way of life, not realizing that these little changes or customs define what we now find familiar. New routines become our norm. We create new identities through these routines and practices, immersing ourselves into the customs of our new “host” country.
After three years in Spain, I was terrified at the size and speed of American cars. Sure, the BMWs zipping along the autovia were fast but the monster trucks racing down I15 in California seemed excessive and dangerous. After three years in Japan, I am both annoyed and bewildered by how loud people talk. Why are we yelling?? And why do we have to talk all. the. time??
On a recent trip to Target, I could not help but notice my fellow shoppers having FaceTime or speakerphone conversations. Did we always do this?? I don’t remember us doing this. The worst part is that I can’t stop myself from listening. To EVERY conversation. At the same time. It’s so disorienting.
As you return home, you will have to relearn routines and patterns that you have forgotten. The more comfortable you were abroad in your foreign home, the harder the transition back.
Eventually I was one of those people charging down I15, totally at ease in my Cruiser. I don’t remember how long it took to get to that point but I know it will happen eventually. Every time I want to scream at people to stop talking, I remind myself that this too will pass. I won’t be a speakerphone talker though… that is just so weird. Stop doing that!
Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash