Swwooooooosh! That’s the sound of me slipping down my new rabbit hole. Hmmmm. It’s a familiar one this time, but the disorientation here is even worse than what I felt in the one I came from. What’s the deal?
Reverse culture shock. That’s the deal.
Here are some typical symptoms of this phenomenon, according to this great blog I found about it for students returning from study abroad programs:
…feelings of restlessness or rootlessness; feelings of isolation, depression or boredom; questions about your identity and values; ‘reverse homesickness’ or nostalgia for the lifestyle or people of the other country; an inability to describe your experiences abroad in a way that can really express them; difficulty or confusion when using your native language; a sense of being an observer instead of a participant in your own culture; negative or critical feelings towards the culture/values of your home country; a desire to return abroad; a more individualistic attitude than you previously had; or difficulty making use of your new knowledge/skills.
I was vaguely aware of this kind of thing before my return home. But I was so excited to go back, I figured it wouldn’t affect me. And for about a month, I was right. I reveled in American food and EATING ALL THE THINGS. Nom nom nom. I got reacquainted with old friends whom I missed for years. I spent some quality time with my family. I had a friend-turned-beau I knew before I left for Japan with whom I happily reunited. I went on long walks in my old neighborhood, just letting the beauty and familiarity pour over me. After that first week back, I focused almost all of my attention on passing the CELTA (certificate for teaching ESL) for the next month, which would be my ticket to almost anywhere in the world in the future. I even said a few disparaging things about my former host country among the many good things I mentioned, which may be true to me — but in hindsight, it was probably more posturing to avoid the actual loss I felt.
After a time, little anxieties starting to creep into my awareness. But I ignored them. Then last night, they seemed to all explode in the form of a teenager-like attack on previously mentioned beau. He wasn’t completely innocent, but I was truly awful. I didn’t recognize myself. I haven’t blown up like that in years. I knew after an explosion like that, there was definitely something wrong.
“It’s too much. It’s too much. It’s too much.” Alone, crying on the couch last night. And it finally hit me what was going on. I was experiencing all the symptoms mentioned above and just not acknowledging them until it was too late. And I didn’t give myself enough time alone when I got back to readjust. Like with most things in my life, I jumped in with both feet. Fire in the hole!
Healing in Others
Earlier today, I had a brunch date with one of my most beloved friends I hadn’t seen since my visit home in December 2014. I was crying all morning and was tempted to cancel. But I knew the last thing I needed was to isolate myself. So, I went. And he gave me one of his patented warm, all-encompassing hugs. And he listened. And I was able to come to some decisions about what to do to move forward.
I posted about my depression on Facebook. Almost instantly, I had several friends and family members lend some comforting words and good advice.
I reached out to my Tokushima tribe and caught them up about my life and what was going on. I told them I missed them. They offered their own brand of comfort, as well.
My best friend called me tonight, and we hashed out some of my concerns and hurts.
There’s lots of advice out there for getting through reverse culture shock, but in my experience, the number one thing to do is DON’T ISOLATE YOURSELF. I feel better tonight just sharing my feelings today with people I love and trust to always be there for me.
Admittedly, I’m still feeling some pangs of sadness tonight. But I’m not one to sit in self-pity for long. I went for a jog. I joined some international and Japan Meetup groups. I’m going to check into ESL volunteer work at one of the local colleges. I’m heading to my hometown tomorrow to support my LGBTQ brothers and sisters for their Pride weekend. I watched a webinar tonight with advice for how to grow your blog.
If you’re also feeling the pangs of homesickness for a place you left behind, it’s okay. You’re not alone. Reach out to your loved ones and start making some plans where you are now.
This, too, shall pass, and the sun will shine again tomorrow.