As someone who goes to college in their own country and doesn’t travel nearly as much as many of the readers of this blog, you don’t need me to tell you that reverse culture shock is a real phenomenon. For those of you who don’t know, reverse culture shock is the readjustment period after reentering your “home country” after a period spent in a foreign place.
I have worked at the OIA for the past few years and have heard culture shock and reverse culture shock described many times, but I had not experienced them fully myself during my travels abroad until this time. This past semester I spent 3 months in South Caicos in the British West Indies studying marine biology. When I first came to the island, I was so excited to be there that I soaked it all in. I arrived at a tiny one room airport that had an old picture of Queen Elizabeth from the 1960’s mounted on the door and advertisements for a hotel that no longer exists.
On my first walk through the town I was overwhelmed at how different all of the buildings were from how I imagined they would be. As I walked through the streets, I started to figure out which buildings were houses and which were shops, which used to be government buildings and which are now abandoned since the 2008 hurricane rolled through. I started to love the people and the ways of life that had become my home over the course of the semester. I got used to living without a cellphone and with a slower pace of life commonly known as “island time”. Before I knew it my visa was up, and it was time to return to the United States.
After a long boat ride to the main island and then another flight to Miami, I found myself in a fast paced, metal ridden, shiny new airport in Miami. I put my cell phone up to my ear for the first time in months and all of a sudden it felt like a strange and foreign thing to do. People no longer waived to each other even when they are strangers and people didn’t take their time moving through their day. There were probably more people in the Miami Airport that day than there are people that live on the island that I had just come from.
When I opened the fridge the next morning, I was blown away at the fact that I had choices of food to eat for breakfast and that I could walk out of my door and get a cup of coffee or any kind of clothing I could imagine. Yet somehow, almost everyone that I had spoken to when I was in South Caicos was happy with their lives. Maybe they have it right?
Have you experiences culture shock or reverse culture shock? Please respond with your stories!