Before moving to Madrid, I had traveled abroad regularly. So I assumed that coming back after a year away would be a breeze. But was it?
It wasn’t. I found it a challenge to assign a sufficient descriptor to my internal conflicts once I was Stateside again. Since then I 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.
Moving Back Home
Upon my return from Madrid, I enjoyed the “honeymoon” phase of moving to Washington State and back in with my parents. Before relocating to Spain, I had been living in Texas for seven years. In that time we would have occasional holidays or family meet-ups. Otherwise, we spent little time together. This was my chance then to fulfill a 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). And I quickly found a new appreciation for my home state. I spent a lot of time putting my Discover 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 I fell back into the monotonous transactional activities of life and that’s when it really hit me 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, that 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. Over time, I developed a deep loathing of the taxation and tipping philosophy of our culture.
Managing Perspectives Through Articulation
I also grappled with how to articulate the incredible experiences that had broken down my belief systems, expanded my mind, and reshaped my existence. Finding the balance between “preachy and snooty” and properly representing my experience was an internal battle I was fighting. So, instead of speaking, I spent hours compiling a photo album. I wrote stories on the back of pictures and encouraged viewers to ask questions. This became my voice and the outlet that I was lacking. I had become muted, withheld, or inauthentic in representing my experiences.
Finding the New Old Me
My last major roadblock was to willingly embrace again 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 commit myself back to the 8 to 5 rat race? Facing aggressive drivers, one-way hour-long commutes, and friends who always seemed too busy to play was a challenge. It was especially difficult as those were the things that made me seek an alternative lifestyle in the first place. I had to question if wanderlust provided a sustainable and fulfilling lifestyle as I identified more with life abroad then the “home(s)” I had known previously.
I had to alter my perception to one of gratitude for all the beautiful things I do have. It made me 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, bear children (God-willing), and simply enjoy unforeseen beauties that come from everyday “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, be aware that Dreams Abroad is filled with people like me who would love to talk to you. We can help you through various challenges, celebrate your successes, and be a support system. When you 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 article.