1. Immediate Impact.
One week ago today, I arrived to my hometown in Florida after having lived abroad for exactly six years. I think I was more emotional than my mom. Going through such a huge transition has given me anxiety and filled my mind for the past year. The first night, I had dinner with close family members. When I entered the restaurant, I only heard English and I turned the corner to be seated with my family members, and looking at their faces, one-by-one, brought this overwhelming sense of emotion to me that I knew I was finally home for good and that I was with who I was always supposed to be with. I had anticipated it for so long and told myself that all roads lead home and here I was, home at last.
Or should I say, my people. While I talked to the people closest to me over the phone as often as I could over the years and I came home once a year for a visit, there is a part of the day-to-day life that you just miss. For example, I know that my young cousins are not six years younger, frozen in time, and I have seen them grow, but my strongest memories are those from before I left and how we used to be so close. Now, they are close to me still, but I realize I have to work to be back in their daily lives. This situation is not just applicable to family, but also with friendships. I was fortunate enough to have my two best friends visit me with their husbands during the time abroad. These types of visits made us grow closer and I will forever be grateful to them. However, not everyone is able to come visit and they will not understand my experience and might not even want to. Everyone is different, this is what drove me to see other cultures and meet new people. I just have to remember to be accepting that others might not be interested in this part of my life, but remember that I am interested in their lives. This means try my best to be a part of their lives again by doing most of the reaching out, which thankfully, I am beyond excited to do.
3. Buildings and Transportation.
Everything is so modern and big! By modern, I don’t mean the most recently built skyscraper, but that things are well kept and well equipped. For example, our downtown area now has these beautiful food trucks and areas that were previously abandoned and closed down being restored, but done with high standards, almost to a sense of being the operating room of buildings, so clean. But this is how I feel after seeing restaurants and hotels in Mongolia or India. Also, I was able to see a city bus everyday so far. I don’t know the schedule, but it reminds me of always catching the bus and it being a part of my daily life abroad. Here, it is sadly seen as the last resort, but I hope this stigmatism changes and we embrace public transit in the future. Seeing the buses is the first sign. As far as air conditioning, well, living in Florida it is hot. Very hot. But the moment you walk into a building in the summer it is like being at the base camp of Mt. Everest at night. It’s freezing! This bipolar of climates from inside to outside is mind blowing for me. I have been wearing a cardigan all week and people are confused that it’s August in Florida and I have on a cardigan. I am confused by the drastic climate difference.
I am not the biggest shopper in the world, but my mom is. Day two was spent at the mall updating my business wardrobe and getting ready for interviews that will hopefully be happening in the future. The sales associates are the friendliest people ever and it is almost scary. I remember Wal-Mart having trouble with this when they opened stores in Germany, because it made customers feel a little too special that employees were smiling and giving them assistance. I never thought I would feel uncomfortable and think it was strange. Nevertheless, the people from the South are the nicest and will say hi to every stranger. This is still taking some adjustment. I know they are genuinely there to help and do their job, but it does feel a bit too uncomfortable. As I have years of experience being one of these sales associates, I am sure I will adjust quickly. And the store I bought the suits in, I spent over an hour there, so it must have not been too uncomfortable. Besides shopping for clothes, shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables is very expensive here. I am used to going to a fruit stand and picking up everything, even in Euros it is still half the price as it is in the states. This will take way more time to adjust to than the friendly sales associates.
5. WiFi and Technology.
How do you pronounce wifi anyways? Every country it seems to be different, even when speaking the same language! Well the wifi in the US is abundant and you don’t need an access code in most places, nor do you need a special service plan through only a single provider. Even the hospital had an open wifi network for anyone to use. After spending a few hours in the mobile phone shop, I noticed that most people are on the 4G Network and not even worried about the availability of wifi, because their data plans are so extensive. In Europe, the rage is What’s App, as in China and South Korea, they have their own proprietary messaging applications. Meanwhile, in the US, we don’t even need a messaging application, because most plans come with unlimited text messaging. No more ‘last seen’ on What’s App, but that’s for the better. And as for technology, I am excited to use an updated version of Excel, but a TV in every room in a lot of households is a far contrast to my last two years in Spain, which I shared one TV between my flat mates and even then, it was rarely turned on. My mom likes keeping the TV turned on in her house so her animals can watch Animal Planet. I know she is not alone.
Overall, the reverse culture shock is there in more underlying ways. I am still asking if the things I do are cultural norms, but maybe after one more week, I won’t need to. Things that have helped are spending this summer working with more Americans than I had in the past, being excited to be here, and the amazing support of my family and friends. I have even been talking to my friends around the world all week and knowing that I have support from them too makes a difference. I know I will always keep a bit of my foreign self in my heart, but little by little, I will adjust just fine. At the end of the day, I was able to accomplish so many dreams by my experience abroad and I wouldn’t take it back for anything! Best of luck to anyone that is also adjusting or wants to in the future. Make sure your family and friends know how big of a transition it is.