Before moving to Madrid, I had traveled internationally plenty of times. Certainly, coming back after a year abroad would be a breeze…
It was challenging to assign a sufficient descriptor to the internal conflicts I experienced once I was Stateside again. I have since found solace in the term “Reverse Culture Shock.” This validated that I was not alone in my experiences despite it being not oft talked about. Reverse culture shock is real and can be found in varying levels of traumatic.
Moving Back Home
Upon my return from Madrid, I enjoyed the “honeymoon” phase of moving to Washington and back in with my parents. Before moving to Madrid, I had moved to Texas seven years prior. We would have occasional holidays or family meet-ups somewhere in the nation throughout the years. Otherwise, no substantial time was spent together aside from that. This was my chance to fulfill my yearning for increased quality time with my dear family. Initially, we had the typical family celebrations, friend reunions and lots of recreational activities in the great PNW (Pacific Northwest). I quickly found a new appreciation for my home state. I spent a lot of time putting my Nature Pass to use at hiking trails all over the Columbia Basin, near Seattle, and even on an overnight camp trip in the Olympic National Forest. When you’re in “(f)unemployment” it all seems like a dream.
It was pretty amazing at first; I am not going to lie. However, once I stabilized and got back into the typical monotonous transactional activities of life, that’s when it really hit hard! My outdoor adventuring soon became a refuge from my growing discontentment and feelings of isolation. My next hike or solo road trip couldn’t come soon enough.
Subtle Cultural Differences
Things like a tax on top of item purchases and tipping at restaurants bothered me way more than they should have! I felt like I was being lied to, I was being bamboozled! A flurry of questions and varied emotions would come rushing in. I felt deceived every time I went out to make purchases. Why do we tip? Why must we charge a hidden tax on top of the retail cost? Do I really have to do monkey math as I peruse aisles to determine how much this is all going to REALLY cost me? It was frustrating that we couldn’t just have items priced wholly like I had grown accustomed to. I found myself keeping purchases to a bare minimum and intentionally avoiding contact with establishments. I felt a deep loathing towards the taxation and tipping philosophy of our culture.
Managing Perspectives Through Articulation
I also grappled with how to put words to the incredible experiences that had broken down my belief systems, expanded my mind, and reshaped much of my existence. Finding the balance of how to share without feeling “preachy” or “snooty” while also attempting to not misrepresent my experience was an internal battle I was fighting. So, instead of speaking, I spilled hours into compiling a photo album. I wrote stories on the back of pictures and encouraged viewers to ask questions if they wanted. The process of doing this became my voice and the outlet that I felt I was lacking. It helped me through my feelings of being muted, withheld, or inauthentic in representing my experiences.
Finding the New Old Me
The last major roadblock I experienced was willingly and happily embracing the life I had cultivated prior to my year abroad. How do I go back to my “old” life without feeling like I’m settling for mediocrity? How do I intentionally commit myself back to the 8 to 5 rat race? Facing overly aggressive drivers, one-way hour-long commutes, and friends that always seemed too busy to play was a challenge I would have to embrace. It was especially difficult since those were the things that made me seek an alternate lifestyle to begin with. How do I come to terms with wanderlust not being an answer for a sustainable and fulfilling lifestyle even though I felt like I identified more with life abroad then the “home(s)” I had known previously?
The answer for me was a lot of self-work on altering my perception to an attitude of gratitude for all the beautiful things I do have. I had to acknowledge that a rooted life and doing work I truly enjoy is not me settling. Rather, it is me committing to the things that afford me the life I honestly want. I still wanted to travel. But I also wanted to be a wife, bare children (God-willing), and simply enjoy unforeseen beauties that come from every-day “monotonous” living. I chose to view things through a lens of grace and joy in order to find happiness in a non-wanderlust-obsessed life.
If you’d like more resources, know that Dreams Abroad is filled with people like myself who would love to talk to you. We can help you through various challenges, celebrate your successes, and be a support system when you may feel like no one could possibly relate. We can.
P.S. Here is a link regarding Reverse Culture Shock that may provide some more insights not covered in my post.