Waves of Reverse Culture Shock

As those of you who follow my social media accounts know, I’ve been safely back in these United States of America for a few weeks now. How and why I made it back to my hometown, Toledo, Ohio, is a bit of a longer story.

Flash forward to me, sitting in the little green house where I grew up dreaming and dancing, I now feel disconnected and disillusioned. I look around at everything expecting change, searching the visual field for challenges. Still mentally in the mindset of a traveler, I am alert and wired, on the lookout for new experiences and ready to face any challenges.

But the difference in being here is that everything is familiar and therefore easy. I know where Mom keeps the scissors and I know where Dad hides his cookies (most of the time). Barring a few minor aesthetical differences, this house and the minutia of life inside it continues to go on as it always has as long as I’ve known life on this earth.

And yet, for all the familiarity, the first time I went out walking on my own, I got completely lost in my own neighborhood. For the first time, I truly understood the word, “bewilderment”. I can’t express just how it feels to successfully fly around the globe solo just to be lost in the one area of the world where you’re supposed to know every turn, every house on the block.

After getting over the initial shock and inexplicable joy of being able to dry my clothes again in an actual dryer and not hang them to dry for days, I had another blunder. Out of some imperceptible habit, one I must have formed in the last month of traveling, as soon as my clothes were dry, I proceeded to immediately roll them tightly and replace them in packing cubes and then I repacked my backpack. It didn’t occur to me that there wasn’t a set time as to when I was leaving again and that I could actually unpack.

Additionally absurd, after three nights of restless sleep and waking up with back pain that would rival a professional linebacker’s, I realized sleeping on the floor was significantly more comfortable. My bed in Korea was so stiff I describe it more like sleeping on a box spring than an actual mattress, but somehow that’s what I got used to and now I’m more comfortable sleeping on bare hardwood than on a pillow-topped mattress. And so, on the floor I sleep.

I’m still wildly sorting through life here. I think I may be adjusting for a long time. One of the hard things is I don’t know how much I even want to assimilate. For the past year, I think I really got used to my identity of “outsider” and now, in the one country on the planet I’m allowed to call “home”, I’m not sure it’s really home anymore. I don’t feel sad about this, I just feel displaced.

In the immigration line in the Los Angeles International Airport, an officer asked me, “U.S. passport, ma’am?”

“Yes…”

“How long have you been out?”

“Over a year, I guess”

“Welcome home”.

 

I know they say that to everyone in the line, like it’s a memorized dialogue or something, but it still struck me. What’s home? Where’s home? Why?

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One thought on “Waves of Reverse Culture Shock

  1. Been home a year yesterday and it’s still a disappointment. I still avoid clutter, because having too much stuff freaks me out, because I can’t take it anywhere. I also dislike the fact that here I am just like anyone else (or so I seem), whereas abroad I guess I was somewhat exotic.

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