Culture Shock; “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes”.
If you’ve ever traveled before, you’ve probably experienced some sort of culture shock when trying to get used to your new surroundings.
If you’ve ever had a gap year, you’ve probably struggled to make friends or felt like you didn’t really fit in.
But you’ve also probably learned to adapt to your new environment pretty quickly, because in reality, you don’t really have a choice.
Traveling can teach you many things, things that you cannot learn when sitting in a classroom.
8 years ago I sat in a maths class learning about algebra and parallelograms, and not once in my adult life have I had to work out what ‘x’ or ‘y’ equals.
I learnt about the periodic table of elements in Science, yet the only time I’ve ever thought about it again is when I’m sitting in the living room trying to guess the most obscure answer on BBC 1’s Pointless.
I never learnt about how to manage money, pay taxes or stand up on my own two feet.
However, when I went traveling, that all changed.
Moving to another country for me was the most eye-opening experience I’ve had. 11 months in Florida for my placement year from university, an accumulated six months in New York, two months in China, and four months in England.
But the strange thing is, I actually find it easier to live away from home and experience something new as opposed to moving home and going back to normality.
You see, reverse-culture shock does exist. And it’s harder to deal with than living 8,000 miles away from home.
If you can imagine moving somewhere new; an unfamiliar environment, somewhere that is so different to what you’re used to. Imagine yourself trying to adapt and integrate yourself to this new place.
Different people, food, culture and ways of life. You have to learn to deal with that and become independent enough to not give up and leave before your adventure has even begun.
And when it comes to the end of your traveling, you have to ram everything in to your suitcase and mentally prepare yourself for the toughest part; which is coming home.
Before you leave, you get yourself in to a somewhat euphoric state thinking about seeing your family again after so long, eating your favourite foods and settling back in to your old routine.
This feeling soon fades away. The gradual adjustment back to normality quickly becomes more difficult to deal with than it is to move half way across the world.
Having your dinner ready for you when you get home from work every night and having your washing done for you is great – but there’s no sense of fulfilment in this.
As ridiculous as it sounds, it was nice to live in China and have to do my own washing and hang it up on the balcony for two days before it was dry.
It was refreshing to walk home from work and visit the local market to buy some potatoes to make for dinner when I got home.
It was educational and enriching to learn a few simple words to be able to order food in a restaurant and not feel like an outsider.
Reverse-culture shock can feel like being a foreigner in your own country, even though your surroundings are the same as they’ve always been, and the only thing that has changed significantly is YOU.
It’s like viewing normal life from a fresh perspective and trying to get used to that all over again.
It’s like culture shock, only reversed.
The implications of this can vary, and can have a huge effect on someone’s life.
It can make you feel homesick even though you are at home. You can be misunderstood when you are always longing for more enrichment and fulfilment in your life. You can feel alienated even though you once found it so easy to make friends in a place you never thought you’d fit in. You can feel isolated, because you’ve grown up and left many of your friends behind and lost contact. And it can be a kick in the teeth sometimes.
But the thing that keeps you going every day is the dream of one day being able to visit the places that you once created such wonderful memories in. The thing that keeps you motivated is the aspiration to broaden your horizons and experience new things because this is what you do and who you are.
“If traveling was free you’d never see me again”.