Always A Foreigner
Updated: Sep 3, 2020
The Realities of Reverse Culture Shock
As I board my plane, the reality of going ‘home’ hits me. Throughout the aisles, conversations erupt in an all-too-familiar southern drawl. Sports jerseys and baseball caps pop up in flashes. I am heading back to America.
It has been less than one week since I left Europe, but an odd mix of familiarity and shifted perspective has me feeling left in a cultural limbo. On the outside, I look the same. I’ve fallen right back into the life I have always known— messy hair, outdoor sandals, and just a hint of an accent I didn’t realize I possessed until going abroad.
I seem like I’m from here; I probably act like it, too. On the inside however, I’m stuck in Italy. My mind is still turning in its newest, Italian-inspired edition. These two sides of myself are contradicting one another. I’m going through the motions, but it seems I’ve forgotten what it’s like to live here.
The day after arriving home, I took my big dog on a walk around our small neighborhood. Just a few homes down, a group of construction workers labored away, finishing up the last touches of a new build. As I walked by, the idea of southern hospitality began to nag me at an awkward yet furious pace. Was I supposed to say “hi?” Were they supposed to say “hi?” Wasn’t someone supposed to say “hi?”
I looked up and made eye contact as awkward as exchanging glances with a driver next to you on the road. My mind went blank as I tried to rapidly sort through my internal files like that episode of Spongebob where he forgets his name. The file labeled “How To Interact With Strangers In Southeast United States” was nowhere in sight. I was dumbfounded and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember what to do.
Clueless, I just kept walking. Easing back into ‘normal life’ was going to take more practice than I expected…
Little by little, step by step, or in Italian “piano piano,” I’m readjusting to my routine. I am learning what it means to close the chapter I never wanted to end, and to hang up that perfectly tailored dress which I hope to wear again one day.
Traveling home is as much a journey as the act of traveling itself. To return somewhere familiar is to have nostalgia wash over and swallow you whole. Similar to a time machine, you walk back into something unchanged; the same creak in your bedroom door, the same dog-fur-covered carpet.
Time away identifies itself as a dreamlike chapter that doesn’t quite fit into the story you’ve so diligently been writing. It’s the section that stands out, forcing you to wake up and see things differently. Life becomes a habit, and traveling knocks that out of you like a punch to the gut. You’re off the plane now— collected your baggage and left the airport, but physical location doesn’t always match headspace; and this, is why we travel.