I never got culture shock in Spain. I wondered if that meant I was special or if it only existed for the weak of heart.
Reverse culture shock, however, is a bitch.
I arrived back in the US on the evening of July 1, after spending the last hour of 18 hours of travel in a holding pattern over bad Atlanta skies. Finally I made it safely on the ground and my old roommate Eric and I went to get our promised (rather, his promised) Steak and Shake. It was delicious. I had many meetings with Georgia Tech advisors and officers the next day and it significantly affected my actions and plans for the fall – I had looked forward to applying for a CEED for AIESEC Ecuador, but that won’t be compatible with what I must do – if anyone can help me get an electrical or computer engineering job in a Spanish speaking country that last at least 14 weeks and starts no earlier than September 5, let me know.
Dave and I returned to the City of Gadrock the morning of the 3rd, stopping for an obligatory and delectable Pop’s Charburgers milkshake on the way. We got many piled up in the cars to go down to the original Jefferson’s in Jacksonville, AL only to find that our once-dank hideout was now remodeled in the style of, as Dave calls them, “shitty nice Jefferson’s.” The wings of course were as delicious as ever, but it forever buried the need to go to Jville ever again for us. The next morning I went up to the lake to celebrate our Independence Day, and had an excellent time with some friends singing karaoke and trying to play “Piano Man.” I slept at J.D.’s house there that night, since the next morning I got up at 5 in the morning and booked it to Black Mountain, North Carolina for the 40th Annual YMCA Youth in Government Conference On National Affairs reunion.
I expected a great time, and really, a great time was had. There weren’t as many people as were expected, but it was still a very solid and mostly young group. As it turned out, I only knew three people who were there, but I was excited to meet new folks. Apart from socializing and enjoying Asheville, Black Mountain, and Room 230 at the Comfort Inn, we hiked the mountain and went to a barbecue festival.
Unfortunately for me, I was way too fresh off the plane and five months of speaking Spanish. I began to notice by the second day that I was unusually quiet, and by the end of that day I found that I was having a very hard time participating in any of the conversations. Chalking it up to just a bad day, I decided things would be better the next day, Saturday. This was not the case, and as I continued to be so unlike myself and not understanding why, I got really stressed and it escalated so much by the end of Saturday that I had to stand outside and breathe fresh air for a good bit of the time. I determined later through some conversations and reflection that it was a symptom of reverse culture shock, fundamentally based in the fact that when you are in another country and especially surrounded by another language, even if your conversations are about YouTube videos it is in a learning paradigm. Everything in Spain was a learning experience, not just shooting the shit on a Friday night like most comfortable conversations in the US. Since I was no longer in the learning paradigm, I was unable to recognize and connect and find where I fit in. I think I’m better now, and if I had gone to the reunion maybe two weeks after getting back then things would have been much cooler for me – although I’m really glad for the people I met and for the things I did, and I look forward to future reunions when everyone can meet who I really am.
Just as I was leaving Asheville and watching the last person fade out of view, with very strange and powerful pangs flowing through my heart and stomach, I said this aloud:
My life right now is about leaving people.
The flipside, I decided a minute later, is that leaving people is always only half of the story for a nomad. I’m moving a whole lot right now, and it is exhausting, and it will continue to be exhausting. But I’m going to Turkey at the end of July, and in September I will (if all goes well) be working in a Latin American country for the fall. In those times, my life will be about meeting people.