Reverse Culture Shock

1 02 2012

By Whitney

The day Phil and I left for China, I stood in the San Jose, CA airport hyperventilating and feeling faint. It was one of those life threshold moments where you know you’re stepping over a boundary to something incredibly different, challenging, and soul-changing. It’s a scary and brave thing to leave behind your job, social contacts, and country for an extended period of time in completely foreign territory – and it’s one of the most important things i’ve ever done for myself.

You come back from a trip like this a changed person – you can’t help it. Experiencing life through the eyes of different cultures changes you. It teaches you how others prioritize their lives, new ways of doing things, it shows you how business and consumerism is globally linked.  I’ve seen the rainforest devastation that the palm oil farms cause first hand (look at the ingredient lists on your processed food). I’ve seen the total environmental devastation in China that results from a lack of regulation and rapid urbanization. I’ve seen the poverty and the hard choices those societies have to make to survive in the short term…even when those choices are not sustainable for the long term. I’ve traveled to countries that have social services we could only dream about as Americans – and talked to them about the sacrifices the people in those countries make to sustain that reality. I’ve argued with corrupt port officials, and been helped by the nicest people you could ask for.

Travel teaches you what you want out of your country, yourself, and your future. It changes your expectations, and broadens your options. For me, the 28 countries i’ve been to have been a personal revolution.

Coming home was difficult for me. By now, most of you have gathered that we’re back in North America, doing a sweep of the US and Canada visiting friends and family. What most people don’t realize about long term travel is that the shock of being back can be almost as dramatic as leaving – sometimes more! We were hit with the tidal wave that is the American consumer-based culture. We had just been in New Zealand, where shops close early, and leisure time is spent outdoors hiking, biking, kayaking, or with family. We are striving to carry the self-sufficient, save vs spend attitude with us as we enter the next chapter of our lives. We are content with less stuff, more quality and less quantity. In New Zealand, it’s about nature, and family, and living. As we want it to be. A tip of the traveler’s cap to you, New Zealand: a country young enough to value it’s natural resources, a country small enough to be able to agree on things, and a country smart enough to dial back the rhetoric and have social policies that make sense.

There are a lot of amazing blogs out there that help people make the leap to a career break, both logistically and emotionally. They all warn you about the re-entry, the changes, the shift in your own perception of yourself and your hometown. If you’re considering doing what we’ve done, know that you’re going to come out of it changed for the better! The people you come home to won’t really understand it, because it really takes going through it to “get” it, but there’s a whole community out there who do – and it’s an amazing group of people! We’re always happy to help, if anyone is considering an extended trip!

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2 responses

2 02 2012
Ernesto

Welcome home and yes, I totally get it! Was lucky enough to have spent a year in Mexico when I was 18. I still remember how odd and shocking it was to come back home. That pit stop at the Houston airport was particularly jarring and I have never liked that airport since. It’s like my brain was forever wired with the weird shock of having arrived to a airport that doubles as a mall. Nearly twenty years later and I still rely on those cultural lessons and mode of alternative thinking I that experienced while studying in Mexico. Hang in there Whitney! Can’t wait to catch up soon.

Ernesto

2 02 2012
Valerie

We are so proud of you for undertaking this kind of adventure and allowing it to change your perspective in the ways you describe. Sounds like you’ve been doing a lot of processing! Though it is impossible to experience your reflections in the ways you are w/o experiencing travel the way you have, it is quite possible to know in your soul that our culture is on the wrong track–that what it means to be human depends on our economic, cultural, technological, spiritual, educational, environmental, political, and social choices–and just about every other “-al” out there. Though we’re all caught up in Americanism in our own ways, I hope you’ll be surprised at the understanding you find amongst like-minded people now that you’re back in The West. You are not alone. Welcome back!

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