I originally wrote this post on Go See Write when I first arrived back to Seattle after 9 months away in Southeast Asia. It still speaks to my feelings about reverse culture shock today.
One week ago I was living in my sarong and floating in still cerulean water. I was swimming in waterfalls and driving a motorbike through rice fields and pepper farms.
I was tasting bizarre tropical fruits and eating street food for $1.
I was befriending other writers, artists, wanderers, healers, tuk tuk drivers, and even an American Vietnam War Vet reincarnated as a three-year-old Cambodian boy.
I was in a world of color and intensity.
I was in Southeast Asia.
Bundled in a sweater and socks on the sofa on a gray day in Seattle, I can’t seem to grasp why I decided to come home.
Living nomadically for the last two and a half years, this is my sixth time back to the city where I spent over half of my life.
This is my sixth time couch surfing with friends and family. My sixth time adjusting to cold weather and English speaking store clerks and clean, paved, empty streets.
My sixth time not relating to the conversations the lifestyles the mentalities of my peers. My sixth time being the Debbie Downer who constantly compares the aquarium to the barrier reef in Belize. The Pacific Northwest pebbles to the South Pacific white sand. The wind and rain to breezy Caribbean mornings and tropical Thai monsoons.
This is my sixth time experiencing reverse culture shock.
You might think that it would get easier. In theory I should feel more prepared and develop more realistic expectations over time.
Exactly the opposite transpires.
The more times I leave, the greater the shock I experience from the differences between my “home” and what I now consider “the real world.” No amount of preparation or lack of expectations seems to soften this thud.
Each time I feel less connected to my culture. I feel out of place. I become more certain that I don’t want to live in this world.
Each time I return I speak to people who sound unhappy and stuck in their professions, in their relationships, in their lives. On the road every day feels like a lifetime, yet in this world nothing ever seems to change.
Each time no one seems particularly interested in where I have been or what I experienced. They nod along through my stories, offering “sounds like you had a great time.” They remain understandably too preoccupied with their “real” lives to hear about my “fantasy” one.
Each time I become more protective of my personal growth, afraid to let in the messages and patterns I worked so hard to deprogram. I shut down when I witness my friends, my parents, my culture, behave in ways that explain why I used to be a laundry list of things I never wanted to be.
More than anything this is the hardest part of coming home.
Not the cold weather or the sticker shock or sleeping on a sofa or having seemingly meaningless conversations.
The hardest part of coming home is seeing a side of myself in others that I never wanted to look at.
On the road I can be anyone I want to be. I can reinvent myself every moment if I wish. Each jungle path or expansive rice field or cluttered market remains untouched by memories of my past.
On the road I am easy going, I am fearless, I am strong, I am healthy, I am happy.
But in these familiar neighborhoods with familiar faces I’m reminded of who I was before I left to travel. A woman I now view as inflexible and overly attached who never exercised and cried herself to sleep most nights.
That scares me more than hiking in the jungle with wild pumas or riding in rickety sailboats in open water or driving a scooter down winding gravel roads.
I’m scared that by simply being in her former surroundings and engaging in her former relationships I will easily slip into her old familiar ways. Being in Seattle reminds me that as much as I don’t want to be her, she will always be part of me.
This reminder makes me wants to pack up and leave the moment I return home.
So I find myself today in Seattle with a choice. I can catch the next flight to anywhere or I can allow the lessons I am meant to learn in this moment seep in. Perhaps here I will not learn a foreign language or exotic cooking skills or how to breathe underwater, but I can certainly learn something about compassion towards my “non-nomadic” former self.
After all, she is the one who paved the way for me to be the person who I am today.
She is the one who booked that flight, packed up everything she owned, handed over her keys, and headed off into the unknown.
The sooner I learn to love and accept her, the sooner I can learn to love and accept the fact that at least in some ways, this place will always be my home.
What is the hardest part about coming home for YOU?
Check out my blog post: How to Transition Into Your Real Life After Travel