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Reverse Culture Shock

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Culture Shock, long term travel, Reverse Culture Shock, Travel

Reverse Culture Shock

I have always sort of laughed at the idea of “reverse culture shock.” I remember my professor talking about it before my study abroad trip to Paris in college and not really understanding the concept. What I didn’t understand was how it would be so difficult to readjust to the life you know so well. I suppose what I also didn’t understand then is just how different life can be in different parts of the world.

Studying in Paris, is sort of like living in New York, or taking a summer trip to London, both of which I was fortunate enough to experience growing up. I considered myself to be a cultured person, and these experiences weren’t that foreign to me, but until this year, I hadn’t travelled to third world countries; I hadn’t witnessed an excessive amount of poverty; I hadn’t visited countries where certain places only had power for 4 hours a day. But more importantly, what I didn’t realize as I was going was just how utterly different these experiences were to my “old life.”

I know that sounds bizarre. You must think that when you get to a place where they deliver water out of a tanker each morning that you immediately think “wow, that’s odd, or different.” But I was soaking everything in and enjoying every minute and learning how other people live and how things work in other places. I may have had moments of culture shock, but I never hesitated or thought that the way people were living their lives was wrong, just because it was different.

In fact, for me, it was quite the opposite. I feel my experiences in the last 6 months have been life-changing for me, in a very positive way. What I learned while away is that life is quite simple, and we’ve complicated it with along the way with the desire to acquire more material things, the need to be uber-connected and this never-ending self-mission to cushion and protect our own egos. I realized this upon my return to the US. In fact, it only took minutes of being on the ground at LAX to discover how much we’ve lost touch with reality.

After landing at the airport, and waiting to de-board the plane, I looked around and was astonished to see everyone looking down at their hands. It was like a uniform movement. Plane lands, phone on, text, call, listen to voicemail. We say we’re so connected, but we’ve lost connection with simplicity.

The first week I arrived home, I also realized how preoccupied we are with unimportant issues. For example: Tiger Woods. To be honest, if I heard one more thing about who he did or didn’t shag, I thought I was going to be sick. Why are we so interested in the way he lives his life? Why do we become so consumed with the details of his every movement? Does it make us feel better to know that someone we once thought was super-human and untouchable, is wait, just like us, and prone to screwing up? (no pun intended).

I realized just how sensationalized our news is. We seem to thrive on the energy associated with bad news, whether we realize it or not, and we become consumed with every news alert. News personalities seem to get a high off a breaking news story, and networks fight to deliver stories to us in the most entertaining way in order to receive the best ratings. What happened to simply reporting the facts? Wait, did we find that boring?

Then, I found myself in the midst of Christmas season, surrounded by the last-minute shoppers who had to find the best, and most expensive gift to bring to their family gift-exchange, or the couple at Best Buy, purchasing a new Plasma Flat Screen because this year’s version is so much better than the one they got two years ago. Really? Is this what Christmas is about? This holiday has been turned into a financial game. Each year, vendors compare sales from the previous year to determine how well they have done, and each year, millions of more dollars are being spent. Soon, kids will be tallying their gifts and the money they receive at Christmas and comparing how well they’ve done against their buddies.

Let’s be reminded that Christmas is a holiday rooted in religion, a time to be with family and friends and to help those less fortunate…just in case we forgot.

I know this may read as a cynical entry, and after watching the last Conan O’Brien show, his views on cynicism have stuck with me. I agree with him that it’s a terrible attribute and it won’t get you anywhere. However, I suppose what I’m trying to say is I felt somewhat cynical and disappointed upon my return to the US. For a nation of people who claim to ‘have’ so much, why do we still have so many problems? We have the highest rate of depression, the highest divorce rate, and the national debt has reached a staggering $11.4 Trillion!

I’ll step down off my soap box in a minute, but before I do, I just want to share what I experienced over the past 5 months. I met many people who literally ‘have’ nothing. I met people whose country has just ended a 30-year civil war, people who have been unable to travel to see the other side of their own land. I’ve met people who have barely been able to put a roof over their heads, people whose village has only had clean, running water for the past three years, who have been fortunate to attend school because where they should have been is tending their family’s land. But did you ever hear these people complain once how hard life is, or that they’d been dealt a crappy hand. NO! These people were some of the happiest people I’ve met in my life.

So before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s remember what life is about- it’s quite simple. It’s about family, friends, loved ones, helping others who are less fortunate, supporting those who are in need, remembering to laugh and most importantly, not to take ourselves too seriously.