More on Reverse Culture Shock – Part 2 of 2 (See Part 1)
So, in our last blog, we began a discussion on reverse culture shock – That inability to fit in, feeling different, not sure where you belong or that anyone understands you. We spent some time on how to tell your story when you get back, and how to find safe people and communities to talk with. But that was just the first “tip” when dealing with reverse culture shock! There are many other aspects of this wonderful experience (written sarcastically), so let’s talk about a few more of them…
I suggest you plan your first few trips to the store carefully. Especially if you’ve been living in a developing country. All of those choices in western stores can be overwhelming and make you feel a little guilty! We have so much excess when others have so little! Before I returned to the States, I had been warned of this, so I planned my first trip to Wal-Mart very carefully. I knew exactly what I needed. I walked in with my head down, went straight to the area that had what I needed, found it, went to the register, paid, and walked out of the store. That being said, a month after I got back, it still took me 30 minutes to pick out toothpaste because there were too many choices! Do we REALLY need all these choices? Do you know that product manufacturing and branding make additional products simply to sell consumers more, and not because there is any real need? (More product placement/space on the shelf!) Yay! We know that Americans love having choices! And American ingenuity/ability to separate a consumer and their hard-earner cash!
And speaking about cash, now that you are home (and either working or looking for work), money has changed too. Either everything/everyone is all about money, money, money; OR you can’t help but think what all this money could do overseas, and you agonize over all the wastefulness and greed and ignorance in our system.
This is hard. There is a ton of waste in America. People do not know, and do not care. It’s not that they are “evil” or “uncaring,” but rather that they simply have never been exposed to real needs, systemic needs, based on poor soils, lack of water or education, endemic corruption, years of frustration and lack of opportunity. So what to do? Start handing out copies of “A Fine Balance” to everyone you meet? Be careful because if you are frustrated you may be turning off more people than influencing. (Article continues below image)
Remember that very few things in your “home” culture and your adopted home culture are the same! Don’t compare the two places, at least not out loud in front of people who don’t understand. I still remember one time within my first few weeks of being back when I compared something, and my dad looked at me and said, “Well, you just think everything is better over there, don’t you?!” I had to explain to him, “No, I didn’t, but not everything was better about America either.” and I had to get used to being here again! This can lead to some interesting discussion or even arguments, so be warned. Different histories, different resources, different opportunities have led to different outcomes. Neither is essentially better or right, they are simply different.
Be prepared to break down a couple times. Frustration. Confusion. Mild Depression is “normal.” Often when you live in another culture, you’re only able to express yourself a bit and often find you are emotionally “pinched,” or guarding your emotions. When you come home, and you start talking with friends that have cared for you a long time, you will break down. You will. Be prepared. It is overwhelming to be surrounded by family who love you and care for you and even prayed for you while you were gone. To know that you can be open and honest with your emotions and whatever experiences you’ve had is a powerful thing. You may surprise yourself. It is overwhelming to be able to finally tell people your struggles in English, and they can understand! Some of the frustration of reverse culture shock may be the feeling that now you can try to be understood and yet still can’t because people are too busy, or distracted, or don’t have the experience necessary to understand your frustrations. And also know that these feelings will not just be on the first day or two. You’ll be fine for a few weeks, and then someone will come up to you and tell you they need to get their tips frosted, and it will be when you are going through a particularly difficult time, and you’ll break down again.
Simply accept that fact that you will never completely fit into America (or whatever your home country is) again.
Last, but not least, accept that fact that you will never completely fit into America (or whatever your home country is) again. You may have heard the term, “third-culture kid.” It is used for kids who are from one country, but grow up in another country, so they have a “third culture” – A mix of the two cultures. Well, you are essentially a third-culture adult. (Or bi-cultural adult?) Although you grew up in one culture, you’ve lived long enough in another culture for it to change you, and you have taken on things from that culture. So you will never fit into your home culture again, no matter how hard you try. You simply see things from more angles now. And truth is more nuanced. It’s much easier to just accept this fact, and even embrace it. Be thankful for the experiences you’ve had. Make fun of the ignorant, selfish, over-consuming Americans – but just do it secretly, behind their backs, and try not to be too smug too often. Like Clark Kent, save it for when you need it. You are part of a very small percentage of people, and you have much more to offer to the world now. So be thankful! Try to be a little slower in offering your opinion, and a little more modest about your newly-found superiority.
And if you can, continue to give back to that place where you’ve served, without letting it become an obsession. Life does go on. Even those you volunteered among will move on. Without you.
This is Part 2 of 2 on Coming home and reverse culture shock. If you haven’t seen the first article, click here.