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The 7 States of Reverse Culture Shock We All Share as Travelers

by Katka Lapelosová Feb 5, 2015

1. The storytelling

I can’t help it — the minute I step off the plane, I start rambling off all sorts of stories about my latest experience. They usually start off in the same way, from most influential/amazing, like seeing the Northern Lights in person, to less exciting, like how many times I had to use the bathroom after eating my first curry in Bangalore.

The people I talk to smile and nod, but no one ever really connects. And it’s understandable — they weren’t there, and even through photos it’s hard to visualize the same feelings I embodied on the road. Sometimes I’ll talk for so long, lost in my own world, that I don’t even notice my present company texting right in front of my face.

2. Anger at Western society

I lived in a rural village in Ghana where we had no electricity, Tupperware, cheese, and more. I learned to live without clean running water, the taste and convenience of Doritos, being able to drive my car everywhere, and iPods. It was a hard adjustment at first, but like anything you do for a long time, I got used to it. But most of all, it put the way others live into perspective.

My family took me to the Jersey Shore three days after I returned to the United States, and I felt nothing but anger at the society I once knew. I thought Americans were excessive. I thought they were selfish. My family brought so much stuff with them for a one-week vacation, things they would never use but felt like they had to have. Britney Spears’ bald head was making headlines, while I had friends back in Ghana who were sick and dying of malaria. I didn’t go to the dentist for a whole year in protest because my Ghanaian friends would never know what it was like to have their teeth cleaned.

3. Feeling of superiority

The feeling of “knowing” so much more after being exposed to another culture can cause travelers to become very haughty. “I don’t eat ice cream,” I’d say to friends trying to make plans for a fun night out, “because they don’t have preservatives like that in Norway.” And when people complain about how hot it is, I turn my nose into the air and chastise them — “You don’t know heat. I lived in Africa once, I know heat,” like I’m the fucking authority on how hot the world is.

Does traveling give me the right to be an assshole based on my experiences? Sometimes, like when it comes to issues of women’s rights and the environment. But usually not. It’s a shame that not everyone gets to see the world the way travelers do, but it’s also a privilege that sometimes we forget about in those first few moments of returning home.

4. Trying to incorporate your life abroad into your life at home

One time I got kicked out of a bar for trying to light a cigarette — but after doing so a million times back in Prague, it just felt natural. My boyfriends were also not cool with knowing I only showered like, once a week, but in Ghana I was lucky if my village had enough clean water for me to bathe at all on a regular basis.

While things like recycling, cooking for myself, and taking public transportation have improved my life back home, recreating the lifestyle I lived abroad can be extremely difficult. It’s not easy to live without air conditioning in a four-bedroom house outside of LA. And the papaya will never be as fresh from the local grocer as it is in Costa Rica. You can’t just go outside and walk down the street with an open bottle of beer like you can in London (you have to hide it in a paper bag, and look like a hobo).

5. Moments of complete and utter depression

You can’t get out of bed sometimes, because you know that continuing your day anywhere other than where you once were, just isn’t the same. Post-trip depression is a serious issue, and can occur at any moment; reminiscing about kissing Jean Michel along the Seine while you’re unexcitedly waiting in line to pay for groceries, staring with glazed eyes at the lackluster caipirinha your (non-Brazilian) bartender has put before you, even retreating to a deep, dark place at your own party because no one knows how to sing “Happy Birthday” in Japanese.

I’ve cried in public on subway rides back to my apartment, for no reason other than the fact that I’m headed to a 5×7 overpriced closet instead an the Icelandic hostel filled with groups of gregarious travelers waiting to get shitfaced with total strangers during the runtur.

6. Planning to go back

People think I’m crazy for planning my next trip even before I’ve arrived home, but all freshly-returned travelers need a hobby. That hobby encompasses scouring Skyscanner and The Flight Deal for the cheapest flights that fit into our schedule, browsing Airbnb for super swank penthouses in Buenos Aires, and feverishly indulging in travel-based Twitter chats during work hours, “for networking purposes.”

Sometimes, planning the next trip ends up being more fun than the trip itself. It’s not always practical, and half of the time we end up planning amazing trips we don’t actually get to go on, but it’s a way to drag us out of our post-trip-matic black hole, and it gives us a purpose.

7. The “Thank God I’m back!” moments

Usually this happens when you get to use indoor plumbing for the first time, after dealing with outhouses in a Cambodian village for three months. Or maybe it’s not having to pay for ketchup at a fast food restaurant. For me, it was chicken wings — all throughout living in Europe, I’d crave saucy, drippy, honey barbeque wings from Croxley Ales. It was the first thing I ate when I got off the plane in New York, despite my love for Czech cuisine.

There are little moments when you forget everything traveling abroad has taught you, and you relish in the things that your home provides.

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