Whenever I get back from being abroad people always ask how it’s different. It’s hard to articulate how entirely unusual I feel stateside than in third-world Latin America.
How overwhelmed I feel by the sheer amount of people in Terminal B of LAX. How unfathomable it is that there needs to be six iPads at every table in the Philadelphia airport. How shocked I am by the immaculate streets of Portland or the number of natural peanut butters in my local Whole Foods (why do there need to be so many options?)
Or how I can throw my toilet paper directly into the toilet (it takes about a week for me to stop searching for a trashcan after every pee) and fill my water bottle straight from the tap. And how the electricity and Internet always work (omg and it’s so speedy!)
People move faster; they are on time and expect the same of you. It’s easier to get things done (hello Amazon Prime!). And eat fresh vegetables.
Once I’m abroad, I forget about all of it. The convenience and cleanliness. The intensity and speed with which life moves in the modern world.
It feels like too much. The first week I’m home I’m always wrestling with how little we truly need to survive with the ease and comfort of modern living. And it takes me a long time to swallow the price tags on everything (over $10 for a salad?!)
Sometimes, when I first get back, I feel like I’m a drowning alien. Like everyone moving so fast is a giant wave pulling under this creature they can’t understand. I have landed from a different world and I don’t belong here.
My experiences are distant and unrelatable. My $7/day Nicaraguan budget seems absurd not amazing. And my UFO doesn’t fit in the driveway.
Yet perhaps what’s even more alien is how quickly this feeling of being a stranger in my own land shifts. Not two weeks after I landed in LAX I found myself enraged at the speed with which Netflix was loading in my room (oh the thought of even being able to load Netflix in Latin America) and furious that Whole Foods had no cauliflower (perhaps the one piece of produce it was out of that day).
I spent a weekend in December in West Palm Beach, Florida, for my grandma’s 85th birthday. There were caterers and an endless flow of champagne. There were party favors and cut-out cardboard props to hold for a hilarious photo booth. It was a tremendous celebration that I enjoyed.
I was in New York two weeks after that and moved with the speed and precision of all those LAXers I ogled at not a month prior. I felt impatient with the subways, the tourists, and the cashier at Duane Reade.
How easy it is to slip back in. To become accustomed to things here and forget what it’s like somewhere else. I’m not so sure I like it. So I check myself and figure out ways to share my experience without sounding preachy. I try to explain how I live abroad in order to remind people here of our privilege. I mention the differences in prices and efficiencies while trying not to get drowned out in the sea of living not in this world.
It helped that I got to see a ton of friends and family over this six-week break. From the birthday party in Florida to a wedding of two college friends in Vermont, and a 12-day road trip throughout New England to table for Carpe at Gap Fairs, I was surrounded by people wanting to hear about my experience, even if they were unable to truly empathize with the conundrum of re-entry.
It’s something we discuss a lot with the students as the Carpe Diem semester comes to a close. How can we not forget where we’ve been, what we’ve seen, done, and experienced, while transitioning back into society?
I think it’s in the art of the story and the power of empathy. But yet again, I’m not home much.
How do you deal with reverse culture shock and re-entry after being abroad? Please post your thoughts in the comments below.