Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Dealing With Reverse Culture Shock


After returning to the States in June after spending six months in Germany, I didn't think I would write a post about reverse culture shock - the emotional process of readjusting to your life at home, typically accompanied by the expectation of familiarity, disengagement, and irritability, among other feelings.

“Reverse culture shock is experienced when returning to a place that one expects to be home but actually is no longer, is far more subtle, and therefore, more difficult to manage than outbound shock precisely because it is unexpected and unanticipated.” - Dean Foster

I, for whatever reason, didn't get hit by it much of this over the summer - perhaps because I saw my family halfway through my trip and therefore already had some expectation as to the differences I would face at home, I was eager to be around fluent English speakers again, my family is German and they in part understood my experience - but I had no difficulties fitting back into my old life. A few of the friends I made in Germany detailed the problems they were having readjusting and I could only empathise with them. I love Mannheim I miss the people I met, but I was happy being able to pet my cats and read grocery stores labels in English. I knew that I could never go back to those six months with the same people ever again and it didn't make sense to hang on to the past. So I went on with my life, gushing about my experience, catering my words to the interests of the person I was talking to, thankful to have gotten my six months abroad but also happy to be home.

And then the new semester started and the culture shock hit me like a train.

I assume it happened because I was returning to the classes during the week / travel on the weekend formula, except I wasn't. I wasn't traveling on weekends, I wasn't learning about different cultures through international friends, I wasn't surrounded by foreign languages, I wasn't riding trains to nearby cities on a weekly basis, I wasn't going into the city centre every day. I was stuck on a campus that I already knew in a city I grew up next to surrounded by the English language. 

There are certain aspects about living in Germany that I didn't expect to miss but I do - Cafe Vienna and the cheap student haunts, the lack of small talk, the proclivity to always wear black - though to be fair I still always do wear black. I now love riding the city/university buses and being surrounded by international exchange students speaking their native languages because I grew used to it in Germany and it's my favourite background noise, I've discovered.

I discussed all of this with a friend who worked in Seattle over the summer who also lived a weekend-nomad pattern, and we both felt stuck and restless back at university, where homework follows us everywhere and getting anywhere is so difficult because the area is so vast.

I'm now several weeks into the semester and I'm better. At first everyone was busy re-settling into the homework/social life balance and squeezing their possessions into their  tiny new apartments, but now that the semester is in full swing people are willing to venture outside of campus life and do more. A few days ago I attended a music festival with a group of friends, and it brought back not only memories of the same festival last year, but also of the similarly-organised music festival a friend and I attended in Germany, and I couldn't help but keep the experience in Germany in my mind the whole day.

As life continues to move forward, I compare it to things I experienced in Europe. I have started thinking of it as something normal - not as an "experience" but as an influential part of my life. I no longer view it as a unique, out-of-reality time, but rather as a natural progression of the life path I'm on. While I will always look back on it with the fondest of memories, I no longer feel the need to elevate it above the rest of my life. It has been the best and most challenging time of my life so far, but I'm still young and I still - God willing - have many more years of my life, and maybe the best is still yet to come.


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