Saturday, May 28, 2011

Re-entry and Reverse Culture Shock.

We are about ten days away from our first trip back to the US since we left for China about two years ago.  I've been reading a lot about re-entry and reverse culture shock.  It won't be the first time for Paul and I.  We lived in Germany for a few years in the late 1980's, while he served with the US military.  The world was much bigger then!  No e-mail, long distance phone calls were complicated and expensive, no internet.  When we came back to the US, we discovered that people were now using bank cards to pay for things.  We had never heard of this before but we had opened up a savings account and had a bank card for it.  We asked at the grocery store if we could use it and they assured us we could.  But we discovered we couldn't, as it was a savings account.  So we left our groceries (in Davis, CA) and drove all the way to Sacramento (where there was a branch of the bank where we had our account), drove back to Davis and paid for our groceries in cash. Embarrassing!

Now the world is smaller in many ways.  We have almost constant communication with people from all over the world.  We can watch some American TV on Hulu.  We blog to keep people up-to-date on our lives.  We live in a large city in China- about 8 million people.  We can find a reasonable facsimile of almost anything we want here.  We've all heard the about the ex-pat returning to the US, only to find himself standing in the cereal/cheese/potato chip aisle at the local grocery store stunned and overwhelmed by the choices.  Or the person who goes into Starbucks to buy a coffee and thinks "This would be one days wages in XXX country."  I've heard those things enough that I don't want to be that person.  Plus, Starbucks costs about the same in China.

I also don't want to be the person that judges America based on our experience in China.  I've worked with enough refugees and immigrants to know that people really want to come to the US and live there.  It's the land of the second chance.  Faulty, for sure and not above criticism.  But I don't want to be a snotty ex-pat.

We have read and heard about a couple of things that I do believe to be true.  One is that people are less interested in you and your experiences than you might think!  A friend who lived in Austria in the time of snail mail and crackly long distance phone calls told me that she was surprised at who kept up with her and who didn't.  People she wasn't sure she would recognize supported them and their work there and people who were their closest friends didn't.  We have found that to be true since we've been here.  We've been disappointed as several friends have come to China and not contacted us.  All were busy and had legitimate reasons but we would have loved to have known they were coming.  On the flip side, we get amazing e-mail and messages from many friends far and near and have many friends that have kept in great contact with us.

For our daughter, this is a reality that is particularly true.  We left our small college town in the MidWest when she had just finished ninth grade.  She has now finished two years at a small, international high school.  It's not always been easy for her.  She has done service trips to the Philippines and Yunnan.  She has seen poverty and orphans and some hard realities.  She has changed.  She has high hopes to spend time with her friends.  Of course, their lives have changed also.  They are busy with jobs and school and relationships.  We hope she won't be disappointed.

Our two years here (so far) have changed us in deep ways.  Some of our experiences have been exotic and interesting.  Some have been hard.  We are looking forward to reconnecting with friends and family this summer.  However, I am also looking forward to just relaxing, going to the library, renting a movie at Redbox,   drinking coffee with friends and reading People magazine (if I even know who the people are!).  We have an intense nine week schedule.  Sadly, Paul will not be with us for seven of the nine weeks!  We'll be apart at at the beginning, together for two and then apart for about another month.  His work schedule is different than Elisabeth's school schedule and that is the reality of our life right now.  We won't be able to see everyone but we hope to be able to see as many as possible.

See many of you in a few weeks!


joannmski said...

I sure hope we get to meet up!

Walking to China said...

I have that layover in LA on June 29.

Sarah said...

redbox was a culture shock moment for me my first time back from China... I was with friends for the evening and they kept saying "we should stop and get a red box"... I think I asked why we couldn't get a blue box instead. We got a good laugh out of it once they explained what redbox is

Amanda Kendle said...

I've thought and written a lot about reverse culture shock, and what you say is right. Especially about people not caring about what you've been doing (except a few, and some of them are surprises). I hope your daughter's friends are good to her - I imagine (but without experience, just a guess) that these things would be worse amongst teenagers. Most importantly it sounds like you are prepared for it, rather than going in blindly - this probably means you'll have a ball!!

Alida said...

Going into a bookstore and seeing so many books in English after being in Russia two years made me cry. I had not And people were standing so far apart and in straight lines. That was weird. And a small drink at McDonalds now looked like a medium and the large was unreal!

I'll be in Texas next week for a few days and am looking forward to a run to Target and not expecting anything to phase me this time!

Kristi said...

You will be in my thoughts and prayers as you come back ~ especially your daughter.
Just remember that while some of your friends may not seem to care about your lives and what you have been doing, there are many of us that know you virtually that really do!