Blogathon: #24 – Re-Entry Shock

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Lorelle suggested I write more about re-entry shock – “culture shock” that happens when you go back home after your long trip (whether with Up With People, or some other study abroad program, or some form of international travelling). I briefly mentioned it in the Culture Shock entry but it is something worth mentioning on its own.

So you’ve been out of your hometown for a while. You’ve gone through the culture shock cycles a few times and you’re used to it. You’re enjoying your travels, but now it’s time to go home. Or maybe you’re not enjoying your travels and you really want to go home. Either way, home’s for you.

You think “oh, it’s home, something familiar, I’ll be fine”, right? Think different. You might surprise yourself with the amount of shock you feel upon re-entry. Suddenly the country feels very different. People aren’t what you remembered them to be. The food doesn’t taste as nice. Everything’s suddenly different. What changed?

You.

Of course, it’s not just you. Life back home doesn’t sit in a vaccuum waiting for you to return. It moves on, and in moving on a lot of things would change. Personal issues, nationwide issues, politics, the environment…so many things. You won’t have been able to gradually adjust to the change; it’s all sudden for you. Like an overnight swap.

But you’ve also done a lot of adjusting. Through all those travels you have internally adapted to the cultures you were in, living their lives, sharing their souls. You may not have noticed it, but they have influenced you…so now, when you return, it feels like you really just left home.

I had a horrible re-entry experience. My family came to pick me up at Rome after my tour. First mistake. It was too sudden a transition, like I was rudely awakened from a pleasureable dream. The family insisted on sight-seeing; I was very moody and exhausted, and I already went to all the same places the day before anyway, but I had no choice but to trail them along. I was already going through the stages of grief and was on the brink of tears; my sister told me not to cry because it didn’t look nice.

A week after we reached home, we were visited by my cousin and his family. I was going through major jetlag so I wasn’t really awake when they were (I slept till mid-afternoon) and I couldn’t really entertain them because I had no energy left.

A week after that, we went to Dhaka for another cousin’s wedding…TORTURE. Her wedding was actually pretty cool; however, it was just too many relatives at one go, too much to process. I still hadn’t processed my Up With People tour, never really got to think about it, and now I had to deal with hundreds of people (I come from a large family). My mum wanted me to stay for 3 weeks, even though the wedding was over by the first week…in retrospect I should have listened to my instincts and said “No”, and come home. Instead, I spent most of my time on MSN, chatting to one of my crew mates as we built our crew website together. It was the only way I could cope.

Some people deal with re-entry shock better than others. Being a frequent long-term traveller may help, though it’s not a guarantee. We all have our own coping mechanisms. What’s important is that we take care of our own needs – re-entry shock can be quite a disturbance to all our systems (mental, physical, emotional) and not having enough time and space to process and work through the changes will only harm you in the long run.

It could take years, it could take minutes. Whatever it is, deal with it like you would culture shock anywhere else – keep yourself busy, stay healthy, get some rest, talk to someone. Take care of yourself. Once you’ve back in balance you’re ready to take on home – and the world – again.

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One Response

  1. Excellent point. I know some who didn’t recover for years, and others just went on with their lives, but that was rare. I remember having an argument with someone over something silly and saying “Don’t you know who you who I am?” I felt so humiliated afterwards. Of course, he wouldn’t know who I was. He wouldn’t know of my career before, during or after UWP and the fame. He had just gone on with his life with no excitement and I was just the kid down the street.

    At the time, there was no Internet and no way of staying touch other than the occasional phone call, and that was expensive. My cast members were spread around the world. I really didn’t hear from anyone for years, and then I learned that they, too, suffered terribly during their recovery.

    I’m glad that there is more awareness and discussion about this. It wasn’t talked about then at all.

    But, beyond all that, I think that everyone should spend at least one year of their life during their college years living in a foreign country or traveling extensively. Seeing the world outside of your tiny corner is critical to becoming a citizen of the planet.

    As you have beautifully described, seeing the variety and the similarities of our diverse world and cultures, you learn to rise above petty and narrow minded thoughts.

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