Re-entry shock (9 months later)

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:

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On accents

After an afternoon exploring part of Vienna, eating apple strudel and sampling schnapps after dinner, Elena, her partner Thor, and I stayed up talking late into the night. Thor, from Iceland, was fascinated by my accent. I ended up explaining that both of my parents moved around a bit, especially my mom; I have lived in four states; the city I grew up in had five active military bases and most of my friends were somehow affiliated with the military, and thus from all over the country. Not to mention the fact that I have lived the last five and a half years in a corner of Scotland, though my housemates and colleagues were mostly English, American, and German.

I have written before about how my accent confuses people. I have had strangers insist that I am Canadian (or if I wasn’t, my parents were), ask if I am Dutch, and comment that I had excellent English for being German (!). Usually people would guess accurately that I was from North America, though they couldn’t pinpoint from where. When learning that I am (mostly) from Texas, the inevitable response is: “Texas?! But you don’t sound like you’re from Texas!” At these moments, I feel frustrated, flabbergasted, flustered: my accent proved that I was not from here even though I had lived in the UK for years and was making it my home.

Inversely, I have had family members and friends claim that I “sound British”. I have had strangers stop me in bookstores in Texas and ask me where I am from. “From here…” I would say, to their surprise, and then explain that I lived overseas. At these times my accent was a source of pride as it so clearly demonstrated that I have travelled, that indicated that I am not quite as from here as I claimed.

But at the same time, it can leave me with a sense of homelessness. I don’t sound like my parents. I don’t sound like my friends. I don’t even hear my own accent — I just sound like myself. Even though I unconsciously mirror some of the pronunciation of whomever I am speaking with, I still don’t sound like them. Probably the only other people I sound like are North American ex-pats in the UK. My accent is a conglomeration of all the places I have been and the people I have talked to; it is, as I commented to Thor, lost somewhere over the Atlantic.

One good thing has come out of this confusion of accents, however. While losing a sense of my own accent, I have also become somewhat deaf to accents in general. As a result, I’m fairly good at understanding English regardless of the speaker’s native tongue. (Well, to be fair, the Fife accent still throws me for a loop from time to time.)

I know that some of my readers are also widely travelled, both within their home countries and without. Have you noticed your own accent changing? What do you make of it?

My life in boxes

I’m writing this while waiting for the moving company to arrive and pick up most of my worldly possessions. They’ll be put on a boat and shipped across the ocean. I won’t be reunited with them until several weeks from now.

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Not pictured here is my bicycle, because once packed it was too big to fit in my friend’s car to take home. The movers will pick it up from the bicycle shop in town. So. My life consists of eleven (11) boxes — and the two suitcases I will take with me. It doesn’t seem like much once it’s all stacked in a tidy pile in the middle of my sitting room. Five (5) of these boxes are books and one crate contains only binders filled with articles from my research. I am a researcher.

If I were staying in the UK, the pile would be a bit bigger: I’m leaving behind various electronics that won’t work Stateside. But not more than another row of boxes; I accurately gauged how many boxes I would be shipping, surprisingly enough.

After five and a half years, my time in Scotland, in the UK, and in Europe, is drawing to a close. I didn’t know when I moved here in September 2008 that I would be staying for half a decade. Who knows what the next chapter will bring? And yet my ex-pat heart hopes it won’t be too long until find myself with another pile of boxes stacked in another living room, waiting for the international movers to arrive.

Voting early

The U.S. presidential candidate debates have started this last week. Living overseas, however, I have already received and sent off my absentee ballot.

I want a president who:

Considering I have three pre-existing conditions that require medical treatment, I work in museums, and have a strong interest in the U.S.’s international relations (being as I live overseas), these three issues are important to me. As are fair pay, women’s health, improving public education, and subsidizing higher education, among others. In short, I want the candidate who will be the president of a country I can actually live in, with a job and health care, should I move back to my home country in the next couple of years.

If not, well, then I’m better off staying in Europe for a while longer. I hope I will be able to. (Job and visa circumstances permitting.)

(This will probably be my one and only blog post on the American Presidential Election. I hope you enjoyed it.)

A taste of Turkey

On our second day in Cyprus, Chris and I wanted to go to Nicosia. That day was the Feast of Epiphany, however, and because it was a public holiday we ended up staying in Larnaca. I don’t have any pictures from that day, so my account of Larnaca will have to wait until Chris has sent me a few of hers.

We went to Nicosia on Saturday instead. Nicosia is the capitol of Cyprus and it is also the last remaining divided city in Europe. In the 1970s, Turkey invaded the island and now occupies the northern part of the country. Both countries claim Nicosia as their capitol, and the Green Line divides the city between them. Because we were curious, and a bit adventure seeking, Chris and I went to have a look.

Crossing the border was surprisingly easy. We walked through the buffer zone, which was occupied by protestors, and then had our passports checked by the Turkish Cypriot border guards. Our guard was really friendly and he even let Chris and I stamp our own passports! We were, perhaps, more than a little excited about this breech of normal procedure.

And then we were in the Turkish Republic of Norther Cyprus, a ‘country’ not internationally recognised and which we did have mixed feelings about being in, but was fascinating to walk around in.

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Initial reaction

We have BBC Radio 3 play in the morning, which means I didn’t check the news until I got into the office. In fact, it was seeing a comment on facebook that made me switch over to BBC News.

Mixed feelings for my part. It’s good that Osama bin Laden was found. It’s a pity he couldn’t have been brought to trial. It’s concerning the amount of… jubilation there is at the news of one man’s death. It’s unsettling how the U.S. sent an operation within another country’s borders without informing that country what it was doing. I understand the reason given why, but does that make it right? Does the end justify the means? It’s curious that people are demanding to see the body, even though that was the first thing that crossed my mind, too: skepticism wanting proof. But a body is not a trophy. To have an Islamic burial he would have to be buried as soon as possible. How we treat our dead sets us apart as humans. He may have been an enemy, but vengeance should not be allowed to corrupt justice.

The men and women who carried out this operation demonstrated great courage and strength, and I commend them for that. I am more concerned about our reactions to this news, and what happens next.

Finding out so many hours after the fact, since President Obama made the announcement at 4.30 AM BST, makes me feel all the more detached from the news. Ever more clearly I find that no matter what is on the news, no matter what happens in the world, the world keeps spinning. The question is how we move forward.

As for me, right now that means saying an extra prayer for my friends in the Middle East, and continuing my research on Melusine.

Fire with fire

Strike on Gaza School kills 30. They attacked a school. Not just an Islamist/fundamentalist school, but a UN run school at that—not that the former would make it any better. How in heaven or hell does Israel justify bombing, murdering children? I have been watching the development of this war with increasing disgust and frustration that I can do nothing to stop it. Why this continued pandering to Israel? The facts are clear: the Palestinians were removed from their homes, shoved into refugee camps that they’re still living in 50 years later. Yeah, Israel says it has the right to protect itself, but the Palestinians have an equal right to be angry. And when they’re unable to obtain the education and work that is their right, they’re more likely to respond with violence. This is horrific beyond words.

Meanwhile, I’m also praying for Danielle’s safety. What a time to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.