My eyes are super dilated right now. I look like a cat in a dark room and when I step outside, the light is blinding.
No, I am not having a severe case of reverse culture shock but rather, I just came from the ophthalmologist. But it certainly is an apt metaphor for what life is like now readjusting – moving back from life abroad, moving to another city where I know no one, and entering the corporate world.
For instance, I am now taking an online MBA class. I just had my midterm last night, and I spent the three days preceding that studying terms like SWOT analysis, venture capitalists, and trade deficits. I had to write an essay on the steps of a PERT diagram. My teacher said it was one of the best responses he’s ever read. What is the world coming to? I’m becoming an expert on PERT diagrams!
Suffice it to say that my literary fantasy world of life in Europe is being replaced by a new reality of business, car payments, and health benefit plans. Gone are the days of studying metaphysics, medieval philosophy, and the history of Western Europe. In short, I am going to need to find my own culture because I am no longer a full-time student.
Welcome to the real world.
For many people, reverse culture shock is extreme. I know people who have spent three years in Africa, who live in South America on a small stipend, who haven’t seen shopping malls for months. I won’t pretend that my transition from living in France to being back in my hometown of Saint Louis has been quite as traumatic. My culture shock is double, though – in one fell swoop, I am officially grown up, with a real world job, real world car payments, and real world problems.
I think I preferred living in France.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved spending the past three weeks with family and friends. I bought a beautiful new used car from my friend’s brother. I had a great conversation about life in South America with a friend over tapas at a Spanish bar while watching Brazil slaughter Spain in the Confederation Cup. I caught up with close friends in a more meaningful way than I had for many months (email can only do so much). And I ate in more restaurants in one weekend than I had for the entire time I was in France.
Readjusting is never easy. It’s taking a new status quo and making it your reality. If I weren’t moving in a week, my life would slowly take up a new normal. If I weren’t (impatiently) waiting for Hedi’s visa to arrive (we’re 26 days into the waiting process), I could be taking more advantage of my newly upgraded life.
Part of me is somewhat depressed: I want to live abroad, I want to learn languages in an immersion setting, and I want to be able to go out with my fiancé on a regular basis.
Part of me is exhilarated: I have new challenges in front of me, new goals, I’ll be living an hour away from New York City and from one of my closest friends, I’ll get to show Hedi my country, and we’ll finally have enough money to (eventually) travel.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
I’ll get over this transition period fairly soon. Right now, though, my eyes hurt.