“Well, it looks like you’ve been gone for a while,” observed the officer sitting behind the passport control desk at the Atlanta airport.
“Yes, 13 months,” I said with a smile.
He looked at me inquisitively before asking a series of questions: Where did I go? Who “sponsored” me? What did I do? Why?
I answered, apparently to his satisfaction, and then he closed my passport, stamped my customs form and handed them back to me.
In the weeks leading up to my return, I prepared myself for the worst. I told myself (and everyone else) that it was going to be weird. That I would feel overwhelmed. That I wouldn’t be able to adjust to being back in the United States after 13 months of traveling overseas.
And then I came back.
And the tears that I cried on my way to the Riga airport to fly to Barcelona were nowhere to be found as I boarded the plane from Barcelona to Atlanta.
And the tears that I expected to fall when I landed in Atlanta never fell. Instead, I inhaled a few chicken tacos at Qdoba, bemoaned the lack of free wi-fi and appreciated the fact that I could charge my iPod without an adapter plug.
When I finally arrived at Chicago’s Midway airport, I simply smiled. I felt a sense of relief to be back on familiar ground – to be walking through an airport that I recognized and to be hopping onto a train into the city and knowing exactly where to go.
The next day, I headed to another familiar place: Target. I was grinning from ear to ear as I wandered through the store and realized that nothing had changed in 13 months – all of my favorite products were in the same place. I was able to refill my makeup supply and stock up on Neutrogena soap, Rice Chex, peanut butter M&Ms and Diet Coke.
It was awesome.
I walked around neighborhoods I used to live in and appreciated the little things. I marveled at the appearance of fresh food carts. I went to Chipotle (a few times!), chowed down on gluten free stuffed pizza at Chicago Pizza & Pasta and ordered Thai take out.
I met up with friends for a welcome home party at the same bar where I had my going away party and the biggest change was that the bar now serves sweet potato tater tots (yum!). I was nervous to see my friends again because I afraid I wouldn’t be able to relate to them anymore – or that they wouldn’t be able to relate to me. But the conversation flowed surprisingly well and it wasn’t long before I was feeling as if I had never left.
Surely the reverse culture shock would set in when I got back to Minnesota, right?
Nope, not really.
Sure, I had to sit and think for at least a minute or two before I drove a car for the first time, trying to remember which pedal was the break and which was the accelerator. But even rush hour traffic in the Twin Cities feels tame compared to the congestion of Moscow or the craziness of Tbilisi.
And yes, I had to stop myself from picking some random berries to eat as I walked through a park near my parents’ house – and then ask myself why I was stopping since I ate wild berries and other fruit fairly often in Central Asia – and then tell myself that somehow berries in Minnesota might be different so I still shouldn’t eat them. In the end, I kept walking.
I love being back in the fall. Sure, we have plenty of trees in Chicago, but the colors of the leaves around the Twin Cities are just gorgeous – as vibrant and rich as the foliage in St. Petersburg last year. I don’t know that I ever noticed the leaves changing colors in the past.
I love that my almost 4-year-old niece remembered me almost immediately and that my almost 2-year-old nephew has figured out who I am and calls me by name.
I love that almost all the restaurants here seem to have gluten free menus or offer gluten free options.
I love having a significantly larger wardrobe that I can store in a closet and dresser – that I have clothes that I actually like and that fit me and make me look and feel like a normal person. I love wearing heels and makeup and my favorite black trench coat. I love drying my hair with a hair dryer and styling it with a curling iron. I love having my choice of cute Coach purses to carry instead of the same old worn out shoulder bag.
Does that make me shallow or materialistic? Perhaps, but I don’t care.
I have been back in the United States for three weeks now and it feels incredibly normal.
Not weird, but comfortable.
Not overwhelming, but calming.
Not shocking, but refreshing.
Just like home should feel.
27 thoughts on “Reverse Culture Shock? Not So Much.”
Glad that you’re settling in back home just fine. 🙂 “Who sponsored you?” cracked me up!
I. Love. This. Post. Thank you for your honesty and humor. And no, in my opinion, liking the simple comforts of home does not make you…how did you put it (scrolling back up) ‘shallow or materialistic’. Knowing it makes you self aware and admitting it makes you truthful. Love this.
Now–go start planning your next adventure.
I find I get really bad reverse culture shock going from Australia back to the US. Never get it going from anywhere else back to Australia though. I think it’s because at first they seem so similar (same basic food, English speakers everywhere, western culture, etc). It wasn’t until I lived in Australia and then went back for the first time after 2 years that I started seeing (what I consider) major differences. No matter how much I brace myself for them it still hits me everytime I go back! Everywhere else I visit is so different from Aus and the US though that I don’t get reverse culture shock in those instances and am just glad that I can eat bacon again and go to the corner shop to get peanut butter.
I really enjoyed this post! I now feel the same way when I go home after long bursts of travel. I think it’s the observation and openness that we develop on the road which allows us to see our homelands with the same eyes with which we observe new locations abroad. I’m actually looking forward to going home to Canada after finishing my current travels through South America. I’ll be home just in time for Christmas!
Aw, welcome back to North America. I am so glad your re-entry was wonderful and not painful in the least. I don’t think wanting to dress nice again is materialistic! You are a girl girl obviously and that was on hold for 13 months. I am excited to see how you plan and navigate your life and plans from here on out (if of course you plan on blogging this stuff).
Thanks! It’s funny, I would never consider myself a girly-girl, but after a year of not doing my hair, not wearing heels and not dressing in a way that is stylish/fashionable, it feels so good to be doing all that again!
I don’t call it reverse travel shock but rather post-travel depression. After the first 4-6 weeks of catching up with people I fell into it pretty deep. I hope things all go well for you.
Thanks! So far I’ve been so busy I haven’t even had time to be depressed. I also haven’t done much catching up or getting together with people, but organizing Meet, Plan, Go in Minneapolis was a nice distraction and gave me a chance to meet other travel-minded people here, which has been great.
Glad to hear it wasn’t what you had braced yourself for! For me, each time I go back to the US, I feel more and more culture shock. A lot has changed in the 3 1/2 years I’ve been living in Italy. But I sure do miss Target!
I remember being partly overwhelmed and partly in wonder when I went back to the States after 4 years away. Not necessarily culture shock, but even then it was just a visit. The part I liked the best was being able to speak English EVERYWHERE. 🙂
Glad you are re-adjusting well.
Definitely love being able to speak English everywhere! Although the guy at the Walgreens near my dad’s house speaks in such a think Irish accent, I have no clue what he’s saying! 🙂
So glad to hear you’re happily home! I had rotten reverse culture shock but I was away 6 years and didn’t want to go back so I guess that makes it worse 😉 You’re lucky, enjoy it!
Yeah, I think it helped that I was really ready to return. I think it would be harder if I was wishing I was still on the road.
Home just feels like that. I’m glad it’s such a comfortable conversion.
Awesome! Glad you are settling in back home. 🙂 I’m sure your family and friends are happy to have you back and eager for stories!
HAHAHA! Totally awesome. I so pumped for you. With less than two months to go I’m thinking about it often but trying to stay in the moment.
Like you’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s going to be weird or overwhelming at all, but just great. Although I’m sure there will be that moment when I realize it’s coming to an end.
Glad you’re loving being home!
It’s definitely hard to stay in the moment toward the end – I really struggled with that! Good luck!
Welcome home, Katie! I’m happy to hear you haven’t experienced any reverse culture shock yet… I would have expected to, as well!
Thanks Amanda! Yeah, after hearing others’ stories of feeling super overwhelmed, I expected it to be much worse. But I think it helped that I was really ready to come home when I finally did.
Glad to hear that you’re adjusting well. I have to admit that every time I return from Costa Rica I love hitting up Target! One of the things I miss most from home: one-stop shopping!
Thanks! And yes, Target rocks!
You have to answer questions on re-entry to the US on a US passport – that’s incredible. No one at customs in NZ has ever made any comment except “welcome home” – now that airports are automated for NZ passport holders – I don’t even have that conversation. I’ve re-entered after absences of years and no official ever asks – why would they?
I’m guessing they didn’t because you are a 40 something year old white woman? If anything says non threatening, it is probably that.
I get interrogated every time I go back to the US on my US passport because of the places I visit and how long I’m gone and the sheer number of Aus entry and departure stamps in my passport and I’m a 25 year old white girl from Montana). My favourite time was when they looked through my passport and started playing 20 questions about my 3 week trip to Turkey.
I think it’s pretty standard – others who had traveled long-term had warned me I might get interrogated, especially since I visited such “weird” countries. I was relieved it was as easy as it was.
But yes, it does seem odd to be questioned returning to your own country. 🙂
Hahah, when I came home smack in the middle of the recession back in March 2009 after 2+ years overseas, the immigration agent asked where I was going to stay and I responded, with an eyeroll- “with my parents”. He had a good laugh and sent me on my way.
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