When I was going to the pre-study abroad orientations they kept going on and on about culture shock and reverse culture shock. Now, culture shock I can understand. It can be incredibly disconcerting to leave home and be in an entirely new environment, but reverse culture shock?!
I just assumed the professors leading the orientation were saying it to cover all the bases and that it probably didn’t happen to everyone. After all, I’ve lived abroad before, I’ve traveled; it won’t be that big of a shock, right?
When I got to London, the people running the program there also started talking about shock and how it could be disconcerting when you go back to the United States, and I figured they too were just being somewhat alarmist. After all, I had survived two full days in London and I was doing great, minus getting lost on the buses and getting back to the residence hall at five in the morning on a day when orientation started at eight.
It wasn’t until around midterms that I started realizing that studying abroad was really affecting me. I was starting to think of London as home and I was realizing what really mattered to me back in the States. I realized who and what were important in my life.
I suppose this is a feeling similar to going to college and suddenly realizing somewhere during your freshman or sophomore years that you are calling Knox home.
Nonetheless, it was still disconcerting, especially since there was still a lot about London and Europe that was somewhat strange. It was even more disconcerting because I considered it home-like while the people there viewed me as an outsider or guest. This was probably the biggest part of culture shock.
Even when I went through culture shock I just figured this reverse culture shock thing must be blown out of proportion, what could be strange about coming home?
The strange thing about coming home is that it isn’t home anymore. Everything seems to be different. There are new inside jokes and changes in people and places. I never realized coming back wouldn’t be to the same place. That sounds like a silly assumption now. Of course things will change, that is part of life, but at times those changes make it so that coming back from abroad is like visiting an old home, it isn’t the safe base it once was.
It isn’t just that home, Knox or anywhere else is alien, my perspective on the things I was familiar with changed significantly. The things I value, think about or want to change have altered. I’m not the same person I was, Knox isn’t the same place it was when I left, everything changed and for a brief time my path and the path of my home, Knox, have diverged and I’m still trying to find my way back.