“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton
I am no stranger to the concept of reverse culture shock but I will admit that I still experienced it after landing in the Unites States nearly a week ago. There is a saying that the easier you integrate into your host culture the harder it will be to return to your homeland. I threw myself into the German language and culture a year ago and found it incredibly challenging to adjust to life in the US but I focused on keeping myself busy. Last summer I took two internships and developed a rigorous exercise regiment. I tried to structure my time so that I was doing something instead of sitting around and remembering all of the amazing things I did Germany, longing to do them again.
Living in Belgium was different, not in a bad way but it was a completely different culture. The essence of Brussels is that there is no one culture, very few people that you meet in Brussels are actually Belgian. You can find the local Belgians living in either Flanders of Wallonia but Brussels itself is a city of expats. What I find myself missing are the new people I met from all over the globe (Europe, the States, and even some Australians) and being able to sit out on a café terrace and casually have a beer. I have no plans for the summer this year. I almost worried this time around that distracting myself instead of allowing myself to fully embrace and reflect on the experience would not be a good thing for me. I completed an internship in Belgium (my 5th internship in total) and I just don’t see the value in seeking a position for the sole purpose of adding another thing to my resume.
I am not having trouble reintegrating into life in the United States but I do struggle with the feeling of this being permanent. In the last two years I have spent time in four major cities (would be five, sorry but Hamden doesn’t count), it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around staying put for an extended period of time. I now love the idea of long vacations and having time to find the hidden gems of new cities. Over my final lunch with my boss from my internship we discussed going to cities such as Paris and Amsterdam and still finding new and interesting things to do or see. After every extended period of time that I spend abroad I think I became a little friendlier. I was raised to value independence and I think this is one of my defining traits but going abroad has taught me that it is ok and healthy to rely on other people in certain instances. Being thrown into new situations with strangers who also have no idea what they are doing is a great bonding experience. I’ve made friends with people who live all around the world over stupid things like not wanting to go to back to my room in a hostel because of a weird bunkmate. My life has been infinitely better and more interesting with the addition of others perspectives and this is something that I will always try to remember when in the States.
It’s funny because when I told people I was American in Europe they immediately brought up that we are too friendly and touchy sometimes. The ironic thing is that I didn’t fit that stereotype at all until I traveled through Europe.
Sharing my reincorporation letter with my parents was a very informal experience. I took the long route home; after my program ended I spent a few days in London, flew into Philadelphia, and finally road-tripped home to Baltimore. The car ride from Philadelphia to Baltimore was the perfect time to discuss all I had experienced. I hadn’t really slept in three days so what exactly I said to my parents I don’t remember but I knew that their reactions were generally positive. I can’t thank my parents enough for allowing me to study abroad not only once, but twice. Additionally they are helping me to develop my Fulbright grant proposal this summer to teach English in Croatia following graduation. This opportunity is exciting but I have to brace the reality that it is extremely competitive and I most likely will not be awarded it. The reincorporation process has not been incredibly challenging to me because I have likeminded individuals in my parents. While neither of them studied abroad in university they have travelled extensively and can relate to the lessons I’ve learned while abroad. I also don’t feel like I live in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. The public transportation and shopping culture are different that in Europe sure but it is not a complete 180 degree turn from what I’ve experienced over the last half year.