Why Reverse Culture Shock Is Worse than Culture Shock

If I could, I would pick myself up, and place myself inside the walls of my newsfeed. I would tap into my photo albums and relive each moment. I want to relive them, so they do not fade from my memory. To surround myself in the places, sounds, and smells of the places I felt at peace. I want to place myself on top of the Piazza Del Popolo, Giardino degli Aranci, and Terrazza dei Gianicolo overlooking the city. I would get lost again in the cities I did not know. Pretend like it was the first time seeing these places that I found a comfort in after only being there for a few hours. I want to place myself inside the photos of my grandmother. To sit inside her laugh lines and her crow’s feet by her eyes. To ride the waves of her wrinkles. I swear I had never seen her so happy.

I want to be inside an image that I do not have. Something tucked away inside my memory...Like when I sat around my aunt's (zia) table, on the first day I met my Italian family. I was sitting with my cousins and making jokes that every time zia Anna made coffee she would break something. Sure enough, an espresso saucer fell from the shelf and shattered on her linoleum floors. Laughter erupted from all four of our mouths. At the time, we could not communicate in each other’s languages, but we were laughing together. Above all, I want to remember my last night at the Trevi fountain. I had fallen in love in more ways than just with the country when I came to study abroad. I made one last wish in that fountain. It was 4am and delirium. Laughter and whisperings. Listening to locals sings songs in a drunken stupor on the steps. I had my last cappuccino and cornetto near Termini station just after the sunrise. I was filled with the anxiety I had never experienced once in this country – I experienced one of my most darkest moments on the day I had to leave. I can see it in the photos even though it is not there. I did not want to go back to America. My home was here.

The hardest part of living abroad is coming home. I struggled for months. They say the heart takes time to heal, for the amount of time you were in love it takes that same amount to get over it. While the normalcy has returned in my life and I am comfortable being back in America, the experiences changed me in so many ways that I could never forget. I think the most difficult part of coming home is when you return and you realize no one really cares. People will talk to you for 5 minutes about your experience and move on because now you are home and they seem jealous any way. However, the more time that has passed the more I realized I did not want everyone to know about what happened in my life while I was abroad. I spent weeks agonizing over how no one could understand my pain of being back at home, how no one knew the things I had seen and the love that I felt. That no one looked at me and noticed how much I had changed. I came to realize it was my little secret. I have all of these memories and knowledge of different place and numerous new relationships with people all over the world and it gets to stay inside my mind completely unchanged. No one could take that away from me, and I wasn't going to let anyone make me feel ashamed by trying to express my emotions in person. Words could not describe my experience, and I did not want them to know any more anyway. I know what I saw and I know what I felt when I was there. Nothing I say, not even here, could depict a perfect image of the things I saw and experienced. If given the chance to do absolutely everything all over again, I would do it in a heartbeat.

Living abroad was a struggle different from those of my past. The struggle of being self-reliant and the struggle of self-discovery. Through the struggles, the culture shock, the frustration over not knowing the language well enough, the bureaucratic mishaps and cultural miscommunication – I would do everything again. I would do every trip, poorly planned, unorganized, and under financed trip. Even those with the occasional missed train and miscommunication.

I know i'm not alone in this feeling, but it sure feels like it. I want to walk the streets of the place I called home for so many months again. To see all of the monuments like it would be for the first time. I want to use the currency we joked about looking like monopoly money, and to speak to every restaurant owner in my poor language skills about my allergies. I miss hearing how the language sounds, even the simplest words, and how they fall out of the native’s mouths. I miss the sounds and feeling behind each pronunciation. I miss the various accents and dialects. I miss the spirit of the locals and the excitement of watching a “football” game with them. To be in that heat and fiery emotion, to hear them sing the national anthem together and cry and cheer as their team wins. I miss waiting for my train and staring up at the large sign listing the platform numbers. I miss being surrounded by the artwork that is graffiti in this country and the architectural masterpieces around every corner.

I feel like my time abroad is time locked. I do not even know how to explain it. I think what makes me most sad is that there are small moments from my time abroad that I remember from time to time that are hidden inside my memory. The little moments that are overlooked or are not saved neatly in a photograph somewhere on Instagram, Facebook, or social medias. I want to hold on to those little moments that changed me and made me who I am today. To hold tightly on to all of those people I met along the way.

I read a quote that sums up the feeling nicely. “You will never be completely at home again because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place” (Miriam Adeney). I think the most important thing we realize as we are traveling is how much we grow and chance. It took climbing mountains and being thrust into other cultures, to go from the girl who never felt good enough, that girl who tried everything to numb her feelings, to the girl who stopped letting others dictate her life. The girl who discovered how to feel, how to understand, how to show compassion, how to be selfish, how to stand up for her rights, and how to show the world that this is who she is and she is not changing for anyone but herself. Full of love, full of purpose. Ready to take on the real world and ready to save it.

I would not be where I am today without the all-nighters at uni, the existential crises, and the panic attacks. Without the friendships I made and the families that I discovered. Without the people that I learned from, the bad experiences, and the acceptance I found within myself when I was constantly looking for it in other people. I was so afraid of the uncertainties, of not being good enough, of traveling because of my allergies or money or fear or not making relationships, fear of not being liked and accepted. Because of my travels and my experiences in college, I’ve been able to overcome those fears. Of course there are still struggles, and there always will be. I guess what i'm trying to get at is that comfort is nice, but i'm also looking to find my way back to the ever-changing, confusing, and inconsistent lifestyle that is traveling.

The Localist Abroad
  • White Blogger Icon
  • White YouTube Icon
  • White Pinterest Icon
  • Facebook - White Circle
  • Instagram - White Circle

© Ashley Nicole Weimar.