One Year Home: On Reverse Culture Shock

One year. It has been one entire year since Emmett and I returned home after living and working abroad in New Zealand & Australia. In many ways we felt as if nothing had changed. Re-visiting with family and friends, it didn’t take too long to fall into familiar patterns and routines. We were home again after all. That being said, returning home was weird and reverse culture shock is very real. Here’s the low-down on the weirdest parts about being home again.

I Don’t Have An Accent Anymore

Navigating an American landmark - Times Square, NYC

Navigating an American landmark - Times Square, NYC

Two years Down Under got me accustomed to being the odd one out; the one with the accent. Hearing me speak, strangers would gush about visits they’d taken to the West Coast. Co-workers would make fun of me for saying “trash can” instead of garbage bin. Fellow travelers would ask if cheerleaders really wore their uniforms to school every day… Emmett and I were always the token Americans in the group. If we did meet any other Americans, it only occurred around larger cities. Thus, being home and hearing accents that matched our own again, all the time, was a little bit trippy (ha!). It was hard to get over what had become our natural reactions - “Wow another North American accent! Where are you from?” I think I sort of miss being the odd one out??

American Grocery Stores Are Overwhelming

Grocery Store Aisle in Dunedin, New Zealand

Grocery Store Aisle in Dunedin, New Zealand

I never realized how enormous American grocery stores were until we got back home. Australian and Kiwi grocery stores are decently sized but they are not HUGE in the same way they are here. We seem to have almost too many options in grocery store aisles. Especially in the freezer aisles. (Or maybe freezer aisles are just where it seemed the most obvious). Frozen food choices and aisles here at home seem to go on and on and on. One whole wall of freezers just for breakfast food items?!? That’s kinda excessive. In Australia and New Zealand, there were typically only one or two frozen food sections and that was it. Visit a Wal-Mart here at home - or even a Wegman’s - and it’s just aisle after aisle after aisle of frozen food. It’s bizzare and I’m honestly still not used to it. Maybe I never will be.

Our grocery stores are just one of the ways in which our country’s overwhelming consumerism has been the most obvious since I got home. Our country is definitely a place of excess and convenience. I can get anything I want whenever I want whether or not I can afford it. And that’s pretty weird - and definitely not the norm everywhere.

Backpacking Made Me More of a Minimalist

My pink v-neck making an appearance in Singapore, Australia, and Nepal.

My pink v-neck making an appearance in Singapore, Australia, and Nepal.

I transitioned from about four outfit choices in my backpack to coming back to a whole closetful of clothes that I’d left behind. On the one hand, it was nice to have “new” old clothes after getting a tired of the old stuff. On the other hand, it was a wake up call. I realized that I owned way too many clothes and ended up taking a massive bag to the thrift shop to donate just days after returning. Prior to living abroad, I’d been holding on to things that I didn’t like or that didn’t fit me right. Just because I could! Two years of living out of a backpack has taught me a lesson in minimalism. Now I only keep clothes that I will actually wear and that actually fit.

It Has Been a lot Harder to Make New Friends

Us with our housemates in Motueka, New Zealand

Us with our housemates in Motueka, New Zealand

Traveling brings people together in a special way. You and your fellow travelers are all out of your comfort zone, thousands of miles from home. That’s enough to make instant friendships happen. We were fortunate enough to forge quite a lot of wonderful friendships while abroad. Some of our friendships only lasted for a few nights, others we still keep up with to this day. I really miss the instant bonds we made while hitch-hiking -or the connections established while sharing a hostel’s kitchen. All of our friends came from a diverse number of countries and backgrounds and they opened us up to so many new ideas. Sometimes we were making new friends almost every day, having deep conversations over tea or and then saying goodbye forever. Now that we’re back, I can count on one hand the amount of new friends I’ve made in the past year since we returned. I really miss all of our travel pals more than anything else about those nearly two years abroad.

Coming Back to Trump’s America Was Unsettling

The Window display of a patriotic shop in Washington D.C.’s Union Station.

The Window display of a patriotic shop in Washington D.C.’s Union Station.

When we left the United States in August 2016, Barack Obama was still President and our country was swept up in the last few months of the election cycle. We voted absentee and watched the election results roll in from our temporary home of Invercargill, New Zealand. The liberal bubble we’d been living in burst when we realized that Donald Trump was actually going to lead our country. Before we decided to return home, we debated staying away during Trump’s entire term as a form of protest. He stands for everything that we disagree with politically. And frankly, he is deeply embarrassing. The fact that an openly racist and misogynist bully has become the literal figurehead of our country is something that I don’t think I’ll ever fully accept.

Within hours of arriving in Washington D.C., we found ourselves waiting for a train at Union Station. Just across from our waiting area was a patriotic store filled with Pro-Trump memorabilia (see above). Mugs featuring the new first family, “Make America Great Again” apparel and more were all for sale. It felt bizarre and confrontational to be in the nation’s capital city, fully realizing we were in Trump’s America. Since then, we have continually found ourselves disappointed in Donald Trump’s administration. Whether he was separating migrant children from their families or removing climate change from the list of national threats, I am strongly opposed to everything he has done. I know there are many people still achieving some good in this nation but in all honesty, I am not proud to be an American right now.

Travel Changed Our Lives And Nobody Else Really Gets It

Emmett and I on Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand.

Emmett and I on Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand.

Remember how I said before that it felt like nothing had changed when we came home? How we got right back into the old patterns and routines with family and friends? In many ways, it was a great thing to pick right back up where we had left off. In other ways, it was almost like our trip was an extended mutual dream. Beyond a few initial questions over the first days - “What was your favorite place you visited?” - all mentions of our trip ceased completely. Some people didn’t even ask anything about it at all. Telling stories from our trip often fell on deaf ears - sometimes it was dismissed by someone saying “Oh yeah, I know. I saw that picture.” or the subject was quickly changed. I was bursting with things I wanted to share and nobody seemed to want to hear about anything we had done. It was frustrating.

A year later, I’m used to it. I don’t bring our travels up except in brief summary or if directly asked. I think I’ve realized that our experiences are so out of the norm to most people we know that it’s entirely not relatable. And since it’s not relatable it’s just not acknowledged. People love to bond over shared experiences and our experiences were wholly ours and thus, they set us apart. By not discussing it, our friends and family don’t have to reflect on how travel has made us different from them.

I know that it’s definitely cliche to say that “travel changed my life.” However, it honestly kinda did! I do genuinely believe that travel - and particularly our time in New Zealand and Australia - has affected me deeply. There are so many ways that I’ve changed. I could go on - and hope to one day do so in a separate post. I have been fortunate enough to have had so many experiences abroad that I will treasure forever for all that it’s meant to me and to Emmett. And I hope we have many more.


 
Moving home after living abroad can be weird. #reversecultureshock #travel #livingabroad