My first two weeks back in the U.S. have been…something. That’s the best description that I have been able to come up with in response to everyone who asks me how I’ve been. Trying to come up with a proper analogy that fully captures the feelings of being back home after having lived in a foreign country for four months has proven to be quite difficult. I’ve decided that the experience is some sort of very unorganized conglomeration of the following:
(1) waking up after a well-anesthetized wisdom teeth extraction + (2) running into and catching up with an old friend from high school who you only get to see once a year during the summer when they come back from out of state + (3) the pure joy and comfort of crawling into your bed after a long, tiresome day + (4) the confusion/slight fear when experiencing déjà vu + (5) time traveling into the not-so-distant future.
With perhaps the exception of the last one, I feel that most people have had these experiences and can relate. And now if you just summon all of those feelings and combine them, then what you have (theoretically) is Martin Drafton’s feeling(s) of re-immersion.
Now, I’m not sure if it’s the infamous “reverse culture shock” that everyone was so insistent about convincing me that I was going to experience, but returning home is definitely an interesting experience all on its own. Aside from (1) the waking dream-like state that has slowly been fading away with each day, (2) trying to catch up with all of your friends’ lives without making everything about you and your experiences, (3) relief and comfort from being home, (4) questioning if what is happening is really real or not, (5) and having to catch up to date with everything that has happened since you’ve been gone, I find that the most difficult part about returning home is trying to convince yourself that yes, you did study abroad in Barcelona for four months. It really did happen. Even though it feels almost like it didn’t.
Sure there are thousands of pictures on your computer and hundreds with you tagged in them on Facebook showing that you were in fact in Spain, but it’s still difficult to believe. Perhaps that’s what culture shock really is: trying to hold onto your experience(s) while you figure out what to do with the “new you.” The you that’s now connected to another part of the world. The global community. It’s surprisingly stressful. But it’s also exciting. You are now acutely aware of how the whole world is now open to you and that you can now do anything you want, wherever you want to do it! When thinking about the future and potential job prospects, geographical limitations no longer exist. It’s overwhelming. Reverse culture shock appears to me to be more about learning how to manage and utilize this massive amount of excitement and energy that comes with this knowledge.
I do not have any specific advice to offer, because everyone experiences re-immersion and reverse culture shock differently. So I guess that the only statement that I really want to make is to not let your abroad experience go to waste. I’m not referring to while you’re abroad, although you definitely should not waste a second of that time, but I’m instead referring to when you return. Don’t waste what you’ve learned and the new you. Because despite whether or not you are aware of it, you’ve changed. It might be only slightly, but you are a different, more-knowledgeable person than you were before you left your home country. So, use that. New doors are open to you that you did not have before, you just have to find them. Now is the time to sail beyond the Pillars of Hercules in search of a new adventure.