Reverse Culture Shock


Those of you who have traveled have probably experienced reverse culture shock (RCS)–basically having to readjust to life in the US.  I had heard stories.  For example, a know a woman who was a missionary in Eastern Europe for several years (mid to late 90’s until the early 2000’s).  When she returned to the US, it was a while before she could handle going to the grocery store because the sheer number of choices was completely overwhelming after living in a place with almost no choice.

For the short week in between my first European Adventure and the trip to Ukraine, I really didn’t have time to experience RCS.  I had meetings every day, was finishing my thesis proposal, and had many people to see and errands to run before leaving town again.  So, other than realizing the carbonated beverage I had come to love was not available in the US, things seemed pretty normal.  After coming back from Ukraine, though, I’ve had quite a different experience.  I think two main differences between the two trips influenced why I experience RCS after Ukraine and not after the first trip, even though the Ukrainian trip was half as long.  First, as I said before, I was just too busy to feel anything in that inbetween week.  Second, I think the nature of the trips was a big influence.  The first was simply for pleasure, while second was not.

I’ve been surprised over the last couple of weeks at what has caused me to feel RCS.

  • The morning after we arrived home, I awoke early.  I got on facebook to see what important events I had missed and to catch up on the lives of some of my friends.  One of the very first items on my news feed were some pictures someone had posted of a women’s conference that was going on in DC.  The stage was beautiufully, and, what seemed to me to be, lavishly decorated.  All I could do was cry as I imagined how much money was spent to decoate the stage and how many Ukrainian kids could have been helped.  Was it wrong for that conference to spend the money for the decorations?  Of course not.  However, you do come back from these trips with a different view of what is necessary (or, at least I did).
  • Later that day, I had to go into work (I think only 3 out of the 9 of us went in that first day).  I was walking out of the building when a man standing near the door smiled and said hello.  It completely threw me off guard.  In Ukraine, people generally don’t talk to/greet strangers they may pass.  I laughed about it to myself later.
  • Some of the most random things remind me about all the kids and the adults with disabilities.  I will be walking along, and a specific person I met will come to mind.  Sometimes I have to choke back tears.  I try to remember to say a quick prayer of blessing over that person.  Occaisionally, the wave of emotion is so strong and such a surprise I don’t remember to pray then, but they are all constantly in the back of my mind, and I know the Lord hears my heart more than my brain.
  • There is a home for adults with disabilities in my neighborhood.  Yesterday on the way to work, seven residents got on the bus with two staff women.  I about lost it thinking back to what we saw in Ukraine.  At the home for adults with disabilities there, I probably saw around 100 residents and only three staff.  It’s possible more staff were working, but I didn’t see them.  I said a blessing over those two women on the bus and thanked God for them.  Not only were those residents getting to leave the grounds, they were clean and well fed.  Ultimately, someone cared they existed.

Everytime I think I’ve finally readjusted, something happens and I end up crying.  For those of you who know me, I’m not a big cryer.  However, I’ve cried more this month than I have the months of this year leading up to it (I don’t think I cried a single time in the months of May and June).

For those of you who have traveled, what has your experience been with reverse culture shock?  How long did it take you to get back to normal?  Were there some aspects in which you never readjusted?

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2 comments

  1. I remember when caleb and ashley came back from their 6month trip to Ukraine…our first stop was a coffee shop. The barista asked them their order and they turned to me for a translation. That was pretty funny. It takes time to readjust…and part of you doesn’t feel it’s right to readjust. You’re now a little more enlightened than many people around you. I wonder how God will use that?!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Harrison!

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