(Reverse) Culture Shock

I just returned from the end-of-the-year garden party.  Unsurprisingly, summer plans were a theme of choice, and after giving the standard answer to many x times, I offhandedly mentioned that I expected culture shock.  My Czech friend/colleague raised her eyebrows at me in confusion.  With my first real school-year teaching behind me and a string of nights with five hours of sleep, I couldn't really voice what I meant.  As I walked home in the orange-tinged pre-sunset, struggling to find voice for my sentiment, I recalled something I wrote last year but never posted:

It's about that time.  I'm receiving emails and Facebook messages, "When do you return?"  Students are being tested for final marks and taking daily excursions to theatres, exhibits, and even longer trips to sport courses.

My time here is drawing to a close.

Forty more days until I leave.  What a beautiful, complete number.  The perfect time for me to reflect on what this time has been and what I hope it may still be.

My heart is definitely divided as I see photos of newly born babies appear and watch weddings unfold over Facebook.  When I return to the States, there will be many new babies or new spouses to meet.  I will see my niece walk in person for the first time, and my other nieces and nephews are likely to be a foot taller among the three of them.  Yet it is hard to imagine leaving this place.  The new relationships built with this culture and these people will be hard to leave.  My frequent trips to the post office will continue when I am in the states, only the letters will travel the other direction.

But before I get too syrupy, perhaps I can amuse you with some of the things that I will miss in this place:
  • walking and using public transport everywhere
  • not being able to spit without hitting a bakery
  • mountains in the distance on my tram ride
  • daily use of the Czech language
  • ice cream and alcohol being drunk at any hour of the day
  • specialty shops everywhere--bakeries, butchers, cheese shops, wine shops, florists . . . 
  • the close proximity of foreign countries
  • regular and on-time trains
  • small class sizes at the schools
I never finished that post, but I think the end of it began to give tangible voice to what it is that makes culture shock happen: a new (and invisible) sense of normal.  I live in Europe now.  I see American news and politics from a different angle (if I perceive them at all).  I don't drive a car.  I prefer my coffee in the afternoon rather than in the morning--and in a smaller dose.  I think in terms of meters and liters.  I can go to Israel for a weekend trip.  I drink mineral water--and like it.  My English is becoming less American and more British as I use words like 'pram,' 'boot' (for the trunk of a car), 'holiday' (for vacation), 'flat', 'lift', 'have got', 'garden' (rather than yard), ''revise' (as in "let's revise for the test"), and sometimes "at the weekend" (versus "on the weekend").  

Yet these are just the superficial levels of change and adjustment.  These things are all visible, but there are deeper-set matters of cultural existence that have shifted within me, which are both difficult to identify and voice.  And I and all the changes within me are going to the USA soon.  Czechs say I'm going "home," but Ostrava is my new home.  I'm going to my country of origin, to my dear family and friends, and to a culture that I don't fully belong to anymore.  

Google calls culture shock "The feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes." Because I am returning to my culture of origin, I should say "reverse culture shock," but the idea is the same.  Moreover, the latter is sometimes stronger because it's surprising that one's home culture could be unfamiliar.  After travelling to China, Reverse Culture Shock caught me off-guard, but this time around I expect disorientation upon returning to the States, whether it's from being served teeth-burning cold water at restaurants or from speaking only English.

So, dear ones on both sides of the ocean, I ask for your patience.  As I straddle the lines of two countries and cultures, I can become more hesitant in each.  So I implore your patience.  Be direct with me if I do things that are confusing for you.  Throw in a smile, and I think we'll all manage.


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