Reverse Culture Shock is Real

Hello! after a year hiatus! Partially due to additional travel, figuring it out… but really just not having the ability to pull myself back into this space.

Three days ago I looked down at my phone and it was September. September 1st, 2018. Of course if I changed my wall calendar like normal good-to-do folks I would know that. But the shock of seeing that date ran through me and I had to shake it out as to why.

Two years ago to almost the day I left to teach in Spain. A year passed. Then I came home. And now another year has passed.

Am I harping on about it? -perhaps. But I think that’s okay because I’m still on a journey- it’s called life, and figuring it out doesn’t go away.

The long-short here is that the other day I had to re-up my ownership of this blog, and in renewing it I realized I missed writing on it.

I’m no longer in Spain but this blog was never intended to be solely about that journey. It’s ‘The Making of Kate' and lord knows I’m still working on the making part of me.

So I’m going to start writing here again, and maybe dip my toes back into capturing a thing or two, or at least writing about wine (and how sorely my bank account and I miss Spanish prices).

Which brings me to my next sappy part. I stumbled on a draft of mine that I had written out when I first returned home last summer. Strangely, despite being a year ago, I still feel like it applies. Perhaps not as strongly, but I did relate as I read through it. So I share it now in hopes that someone else might relate, too.

The Return from the Journey

I got home in July, but wasn’t really home. Between family vacation, celebrating a cousin and then a wedding- I was on the move most of July, which was probably a good thing. Idleness never did anyone any good.

But now I’ve been home for about two weeks… and it’s been hard.

Here’s why.

There is a certain point during your time abroad in which you do a bit of a turn. Mine happened to me right after I got back from Christmas break. I was excited to go back to Spain, and once there, the things that had felt so foreign to me for so long, well, they didn’t feel like that anymore.

My apartment was a new home. My roommates were my new family, and though I still had moments of frustration, they were the same old frustrations that I had already overcome. I guess we call this adaptation. I adapted. In my own way, I got used to my grocery store trips, walking to meet up with a friend, catching the bus to my school, riding four hours in the middle of the night to reach the nearest airport. One euro bottles of wine weren’t so shocking. Frozen piglets in the freezer section didn’t hold the same horror.

Then I traveled non-stop for thirty-six days. That was an entirely different experience. A fast pace of go-go-go and jumping on trains, planes, and buses to arrive in a different country hours later. It was sporadic, addictive- and I fed off of it. It made getting over that initial deep sweep of sorrow easier. I missed Spain, but I was so busy, it didn’t surface as easily.

Here’s the thing. The cultural differences from my perspective now seem so small. We all eat. We all go shopping. These are all normal human things we do. Western Europe, in it’s own way, isn’t that shocking to the system as say China or islands in the Pacific. I thought there would be no reverse culture shock because of this realization.

I was wrong.

Because it isn’t the big differences that get you, it’s the small ones. Spain operates at a slower pace of life. And the pressures that exist here didn’t seem to exist there.

But the big one is kind of hard to explain. While there, a piece of myself grew and I became a different version of me. I was less stressed (obviously) and in the learning process almost every day (learning how to teach, how to speak Spanish, how to manipulate RyanAir into giving me the cheapest flight…). I was still me, but different pieces rose to the surface as they were used more and more.

Then I left, and in leaving, I lost the version of myself that I had become. So in a way, being back home has been a coming to terms with that loss. I will never be the person I was in Spain. I think that is true of any big journey in life; when you go to college, leave home for the first time, move to a big city after living in a small town… the list goes on. You have to become the person you need to be wherever you end up- and that person isn’t that same one that I need in Virginia.

Then there’s the shell-shock.

The first week I was back, I was sitting outside on a patio drinking (ridiculously over-priced) wine and I had a momentary warping of the mind because the people behind me were speaking English. I mean, of course they were because I was in America. But for seven months hearing English from the mouths of strangers was a good reason to over-react. Only this time I over-reacted in a bar located state-side…

Being able to drive my car wherever and whenever I want has been pleasant, but sometimes I miss the struggle of trying to get from point A to point B. I miss walking down the street to get groceries and looking absolutely weak and ridiculous carrying them home. I miss the outside culture of Spain and how children run wild till one a.m. Liked my life being all within walking distance and the distinct lack of air-conditioning. The other day I did laundry and it was strange to push it into a dryer instead of shaking out the undies for the streets below to see billowing in the wind.

How can it be possible that in seven months I adapted to that way of life and the one I’ve lived for 24 years became so foreign? I have some hunches, but in short it happened. And I’m still adjusting.

The only way to get back at it is time.

I’m learning that. I did feel silly though, feeling so overwhelmed. I would be with a group of people- family, friends I’ve known since elementary school- and I would feel awkward and out of place. My usual fall-back on casual conversation failed me time and again. I just didn’t feel wholly there, but I couldn’t understand why.

My metaphor helped me out with this one. Think of it like a great big puzzle. And you used to fit perfectly into that center. But I went abroad and the puzzle piece of me shifted slightly. Just a little bit. I kind of don’t fit into that same space that I used to. And the people around me don’t fit exactly, either, because we all went through changes, and those changes happened apart. I’ve just started feeling like that was okay. That it’s okay that we changed. That I can be that slightly altered puzzle piece and things still work.

I didn’t think coming home would be so hard when I was so excited to make that journey. But it has been. And I’m slowly learning that the bigger the journey, the harder the return. But that doesn’t mean that the return can’t teach you just as much.