Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Travel Tip Tuesdays: Dealing with Culture Shock When You Come Home

"Here I am just returning from my life-changing
experiences as an organic farmer, and I resolve
to hold weekly square dances and grow an herb
garden and raise my own honey and…"

When people think of culture shock, they usually think about something that happens on the road (see last week’s blog). However, there is a second, and often unexpected, kind of culture shock that occurs after a long trip: the shock of coming home.

This happened to me almost every time I returned from a multiple-week trip. Everything at home seemed familiar, yet I didn’t experience it in the same way. After a few weeks, I was always frustrated that I didn’t seem to have changed as much as I thought I did, and that I just fell back into my normal patterns when I was home again— and yet things still seemed off or different. My perspective seemed skewed, or changed.

Being home semi-permanently has been a huge shift for me. I face the question that many just-graduated college kids face: away from the social constructs of travel, how do I make friends and develop meaningful relationships? These are not easy questions, and I’m still working on answers. But in the meantime, if I could follow my own advice, these are the things that would help the most.

Give yourself time to adjust. Don’t come home from a long trip and expect to hit the ground running. Allow some transition time. 

Accept that other people have changed. People grow up without you (sometimes quite a bit), so you need to brace for this. Remind yourself that change is okay. However, even more importantly…

Accept that you’ve changed. This past week, my sister visited from California. I hadn’t seen her in half a year. I thought it was strange how much she had changed in that time— until I realized that I was the one who had changed more. Changes are sometimes so imperceptible that you don’t notice them.
"…Never mind."

Accept that you’re still the same person. On the flip side of this, it can be disappointing to return from a trip and immediately revert to the way you’ve always been. This usually happened to me— after swearing to be forever changed by these incredible life-shaping experiences, I’d find myself being the dumb shy kid who eats a lot of fried chicken. No matter how much you change, there will always be tendencies and personality traits you’ll have, and that’s okay.

Don’t try to force things to go back to the way they were… and don’t freak out if they do. In other words, one of the best traits to nurture in your life, whether you’re on the road or at home, is flexibility. Go with the flow. Live in the present. Embrace change and cherish stability. Or, as I said in a previous blog on a similar topic: “My travels have taught me that you have to constantly adjust to your environment. That includes being home. You still have to seize the day, enjoy the moment, and look for opportunities to learn and experience new things. The little joys and opportunities are all around us, no matter where we are. Sometimes, you just have to create your own adventure.”


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