Some would say, “Chera, you’ve been back in the U.S. for nine months now. Get over yourself and this reverse-culture shock thing.” Or at least, I think some people might say that.
Reverse culture shock, or re-entry, is simply a common reaction to returning home from [being] abroad. It is an emotional and psychological stage of re-adjustment, similar to your initial adjustment to living abroad. Symptoms can range from feeling like no one understands you or how you’ve changed to feeling panicked that you will lose part of your identity if you don’t have an outlet to pursue new interests that were sparked abroad.
(definition provided by Marquette University.)
I left the UK at the end of February of this year. I travelled a little bit, then returned to the U.S. in March. Between May and July I travelled again, visiting five countries in a two-month period (six if you include the U.S.). I wasn’t in “one place” until September, when I finally was able to move into my flat in North Texas, where I have lived for the last three or so months.
I still get really confused in a supermarket. I still have to call one of my best friends and ask, “Where would I find ___?” and have her answer be a section where I wouldn’t have even thought to look. Sometimes I just leave the supermarket without getting some of the items on my list because I was overwhelmed by choice. I still automatically veer to the left side of the road when I first get on my bike. (Thank heaven I never drove a car in the UK.) In the kitchen, I still automatically reach for the right-hand tap for hot water, because the house I lived in for three and a half years in the UK had the taps switched around.
And other problems add to the confusion, the frustration. Long-time readers of this blog will remember my Recipe Tuesdays; I used to be a good cook, but now I burn, over- or under-spice, over- or under-cook, drop on the floor, spill over the stove, you name it, pretty much anything I try to cook that is beyond boiling an egg or making porridge in the microwave (and I still don’t get the egg right two-thirds of the time). I’m clumsy. I forget what I was doing. I’m not used to an electric stove. I can’t handle a recipe that has more than two or three steps to it — and those have to be simple steps.
When typing, I find myself making strange typos. Not misspellings of words or simply hitting the wrong keys, but different words altogether. Typing “was” when I meant to type “what”, or “prophetic” for “option”. I have to proofread what I write more carefully than I have had to do before. It feels, a bit, like my brain is short-circuiting. Things I used to be good at, that I could do with ease, now spin sideways when I touch them. I have to take more care with what I do; everything takes more time than usual.
A lot of this confusion and disorientation, I was relieved to find, is still reverse culture shock. I have the other symptoms: I miss the UK desperately, especially Scotland. I hate that my main form of transportation here is driving; that I live in a town of concrete and hanging wires, in a land that is so flat and featureless that I partly feel agoraphobic when driving on the state highway. I hate that I haven’t found a park or somewhere that has trees and dirt and wildlife. I hate the consumerism, the materialistic mindset, the polarized politics, and the sense of entitlement the society I am in seems to have. I hate that my accent is changing. I could go on.
It makes sense that the longer you were out of the country, the longer it will take to readjust to being in your “home” country (especially if it hadn’t been “home” in a long while). Coming back from my seven-month study abroad in 2006 was hard enough, made more difficult with the onset of rheumatoid arthritis; it took me, what, almost a year to adjust to being back? Two years? Now I have come back from five-and-a-half years of having lived overseas. I came back reluctantly, not in the best of emotional circumstances, and entered a situation of uncertain employment and financial instability. I have a job now, yes, but despite having the equivalent to a full-time teaching load, I’m not being paid enough to live on. I’m applying for, and being rejected from, job after job after job and I have no idea where I am going to be living come July 2015. Sorry folks, my reverse culture shock is going to last longer than nine months. According to some accounts, it might even last years. After all, it wasn’t until my third year in St Andrews that I really started to feel at home there.
So yes, I am frustrated with life. Yes, I am probably irritable and withdrawn. Yes, I am tired and exhausted, confused and disorientated, clumsy and absentminded. To those, if any, who would expect me to be “over it” by now: I’m not. Be patient with me, as I try to be patient with myself, too.
Additional reading about reverse counter shock, or re-entry shock:
- Forbes: Home Sweet Home? Dealing with Reverse Counter Shock
- CNN: Dealing with Reverse Counter Shock
- University Studies Abroad Consortium: Re-entry/Reverse Culture Shock