When I first came home I was a lot of things. Tired, excited, impatient, hoping my luggage hadn’t burst open in transit. Happy to see my parents. Overjoyed to fall into my bed. Beside myself at the cereal selection in the cabinet. And then some point after all the emotional spikes leveled out and my body adjusted to the new time zone, I realized: I’m not in Spain any more.
One of the last cards I received before I departed was from my dear friend Holly, who will soon be off on her own wonderful adventures. She sent me a wonderful card from Etsy with a quote from W. Maugham: “I do not bring back from the journey quite the same self that I took.” This is easily the most obvious answer for what we know to be reverse culture shock. Even the Europeans know about it – as this article in Cafe Babel points to the ERASMUS program for the same reason, referring to it as “ex-Erasmus syndrome”. A dramatic quote from the article underscores the most shocking realizations of coming home:
“El ex Erasmus no lo descubre hasta que no vuelve: su casa le parecerá cutre, su pueblo frío, la facultad horrible, la tele lúgubre, los amigos inútiles”. “The ex-Erasmus [student] doesn’t discover it until he doesn’t return: your house is eh, your town is eh, your school is eh, TV is eh and your friends are eh.” Thank you, Debbie Downer!
Ok, it’s not that bad. Reverse culture shock is not so much like hitting a brick wall but more of a soft bounce in a rubber room. It does have that touch of insanity to it, as is usually associated with rubber rooms. Sometimes, I have distinct moments where I am suddenly confused that I’m here, not there, despite the fact I am most definitely in North America. Equally startling are the times when I’m deep in conversation with a friend or colleague and still mentally reach for Spanish.
As a direct result of being away for the better part of a year, re-entry means a social life on fire. I have been out at a restaurant once if not twice every day this week. Friends are in flux throughout the city and now I’m back at work in a familiar place for the summer, adding hordes of colleagues to the welcome wagon. This? Is awesome. It’s exhausting both on my brain and my wallet (and my gas tank) but it is exactly what I was thinking of those days in Spain when I was craving home.
So what’s all the commotion about? Here are some of the (silly) things I’ve been coping with since my arrival:
I wanted a sandwich – a real, honest-to-god, piled high with preservative loaded meats and cheeses sandwich. You know what? I’m over it. I think I’ve had two. Where are the bakeries in this godforsaken town? I need a panaderia, stat. Pass me a baguette before I hit you over the head with this ridiculous loaf of sandwich bread.
I prefer warm milk in my coffee, not cold. Really this is wildly intelligent if you think about it .. your coffee stays hot a lot longer. Even when it is sub-par, American coffee.
I am having a really hard time finding things to do for free. Everything costs money! Which is something I don’t have a lot of these days. I made the mistake (twice) of walking into one of those fro-yo places where you pay by weight for your cup of yogurt and toppings and stared blankly at the $11 result for two cups of yogurt.
My parents live in the suburbs. We drive everywhere, out of necessity. There are three people in my house, and therefore = 3 cars. I missed my car with a fiery passion and although I am incredibly happy to be driving again .. I’d rather not. As Natalie is rediscovering in California – we are on the hurt for public transportation in a big way here in These United States.
There is volleyball, glorious volleyball. And Gatorade! (a non entity in Spain). Yes, I have to drive to my all of my matches, but after an 8 month dry spell, I’d drive across the country to reach the nearest volleyball court. And if I keep eating at all of these local restaurants, I am going to have to jack up my gym regimen.
The ENGLISH. Remember my violent reaction to the valley girls that were seemingly crawling the walls of the Cathedral and leaking out into the streets of Sevilla speaking their hideous, like, language? It would be appear that they all live here, in my town. I realize that I’m now back in the land where it is almost impossible not to eavesdrop because everyone is speaking your native language. It is extremely distracting!
The SPANISH. I need to sign up for a book group at Barnes and Noble or something. My mom tells me to speak Spanish to her and she promises to smile and nod. This is a valiant effort on her part, but I really do need someone to talk back to me in this precious language. My concern is not that I will lose my speaking abilities, just a preference to keep on speaking.
I’ve been home for 15 days and have not yet hooked up my cell phone. You know what? I don’t want to! At first it was a monetary decision, now its just the principal of the thing. My friends are annoyed, my parents are not a fan, but I think it’s spectacular. Just facebook me, I’ll get to you .. in due time 🙂