Tag Archives: Life

Reverse Culture Shock

Hi friends and readers.  Sorry about the disappearing act; I wish I could explain it all, but I have neither the time or the inclination to share everything with the internet world.  Suffice it to say, the past two months have been quite stressful.  Thankfully, (some) things are starting to settle down.

To start with, we are back in America.  This was quite unexpected and has been a very difficult transition for us.  We spent the past few weeks living with my in-laws, who are wonderful people, but it is always stressful for me to not have my own space and be able to nest.  As of this weekend we are finally in our own place, lovingly (and freely) furnished by friends.  I have a kitchen again, which means there will be more recipes forthcoming.

In the meantime, I want to give you all something to read.  I wrote this recently for some of our family members and friends to help them understand a little bit of what it is like to return to one’s home culture after a significant period away.  This is an often-overlooked and unexpected aspect of the expatriate life that is important to be aware of.

Reverse Culture Shock

One of the most difficult aspects of returning to America for people who have spent extended periods of time overseas is dealing with Reverse (Re-entry) Culture Shock.  Although most people generally expect that someone will feel disoriented and uncomfortable when entering a foreign culture, there is little awareness that those same feelings are common and often even stronger when he returns to his home culture.  This has been and continues to be one of the least-understood problems for expatriates when they return to the “home” culture, which, for many, no longer feels like home.

During their time overseas, expatriates experience many changes not just in their environment, but also in their values, attitudes, behaviors, and perspectives, and when they return to their home culture they are faced with the feeling that they no longer understand or fit in to society the way they did before.  It can be difficult to communicate these new ideas and beliefs with family and friends who have not shared the overseas experience and have not gone through the same transformation process; additionally, people in the home culture often do not seem interested in hearing more than superficial details about the expatriate’s time overseas.  Consequently, the transformations experienced by returning expatriates may affect relationships with those closest to them, who don’t necessarily comprehend the subtle changes that have taken place, and may not always accept them.  Expatriates who adjust best and bond most strongly with their overseas community will often have the hardest time returning and adapting to their home culture.

The way in which a expatriate left their overseas context can also play a major role in their home culture re-entry process.  Although most people in the home culture will expect the expatriate to be overjoyed about returning, the expatriate often feels a deep sense of loss and sadness over the people and places they have left.  The expatriate may be experiencing feelings of failure or guilt if he believes that the return to the home culture was unnecessary or somehow against his wishes, or that his work did not turn out as he hoped.  The need to grieve the losses caused by re-entry can also exacerbate the lack of understanding and patience exhibited by family and friends.

Here is a list of some of the most common symptoms of Reverse Culture Shock:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Sleep disorders (insomnia or excessive sleeping)
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Personal/ethical dilemmas
  • Feelings of inferiority
  • Alienation
  • Shyness
  • Trouble making (or reconnecting with) friends
  • Relationship problems
  • Sexual problems
  • Work/academic performance difficulties

The length of time it takes to reintegrate to their home culture varies person to person.  It can be influenced by the amount of time the person spent overseas, the level to which they adapted to and bonded with their overseas culture, the patience and understanding exhibited by family and friends, as well as by situations happening in the foreign community of which the expatriate was part.

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Running Out of Gas

Well, friends, it is that time in The AmerArab Life: we are preparing for another transition.  Given the past few years of our lives, you might assume that we have developed the necessary emotional, relational and logistical skills to manage this process relatively smoothly.  After all, in the past five years we have:

  • Gotten married;
  • Changed jobs;
  • Lived in five different countries (two of them more than once);
  • Lived in three different states within the U.S.A.;
  • Lived in 11 houses or apartments for at least two months each (the longest period in any one house being eight months), a one-star Arab hotel for three months, and had eight periods of one month or less stays with friends, family or in temporary housing;
  • Actively studied four dialects of Arabic;
  • Decided to start having children, and are now pregnant.

So, it is time to move again, probably at the end of next week (assuming our visas come through as promised).  However, instead of being the efficient list-making, people-visiting, introspective journal writer that I was at the beginning of this past period of life, I am now a procrastinating, uncaring, celebrity gossip googling zombie.  Do I feel guilty about this?  Definitely.  I spent years teaching college students how to “finish well” in their cross-cultural experiences: push through the fatigue, fight the urge to withdraw, plan events to honor the people you have met.  In the past, I have spent the final days before moving making sure to get pictures taken with all my most important friends, distributing gifts and any possessions I planned to leave behind, visiting my favorite places in the city.

None of this knowledge or past experience is helping me gain any motivation at this point.  I am so tired of moving, starting over, settling down, and saying goodbye, and it has gotten more and more difficult each time.  Honestly, apart from the fact that we chose an apartment and furnished it, there is nothing that makes me feel as though Hillside is my home, which seems like it should make leaving easier—but it’s not.  We came in knowing it was temporary, and have lived that way for the past five months.  We spent six weeks away traveling, never formally studied Arabic, lived without routines or schedules or friends.  The only person I have any sort of relationship with is the landlady, and I don’t even know her name; I just call her the respectful word for “old woman.”  I was supposed to go talk to her today, tell her that we are moving, ask if she wants to buy any of our furniture.  Instead I crawled into bed, felt frustrated by my poor attitude, and decided to wait until sometime when Hungry Husband could go with me.

And to top it all off, the gas tank that fuels the stove started sputtering a few days ago, a sure sign that it is low and will be empty soon.  I have been nursing it since then, praying that it does not run out before we leave, because I don’t want to pay the $15 to replace it for a week’s use.  Fortunately, it doesn’t take much time on the stove to make ramen noodles…

The point is, I am 31 years old.  In six months we are going to have a baby.  My brain’s capacity for learning foreign languages is diminishing rapidly, and my introverted, intimate relationship-oriented personality is spent from years of forming friendships that come to an end before I am able to communicate any of my deep thoughts.  I don’t feel like I have much left in me to keep living this lifestyle.  Please pray that this will be our last move for a long time!

LEFTOVER LAMENTATIONS

This has not been a stellar week for eating in my house.  I’m not quite sure what exactly to blame it on…I have a few suspicions (well, one in particular), but in general I can say that it has been very difficult to get back in the swing of things.  Especially because, at this point in our lives, we are in a period of rather inactive waiting with nothing specific to do, and I have found that in times of aimlessness like this, I am prone to wasting inordinate amounts of time doing absolutely nothing.  Hopefully we have only one or two more weeks of this before some of our future life murkiness clears up…

Upon returning from our long trip, we spent several days grudgingly eating thawed chicken-and-vegetable noodle soup, the very same soup that seemed like such a lifesaver when we returned from traveling and there it was, ready to eat in just minutes!  Two days later, there were still several servings lingering in the fridge, and in my desperation to clear out that precious space for food that we actually wanted to eat, I threw the remaining soup in a casserole dish, spread a thick layer of garlicky mashed potatoes on top, and baked it to a bubbly, golden brown.  (This is one of my main tricks of reinventing leftovers…thankfully, it usually works.)  In this case, it was like a potato-y version of chicken and dumplings, and I was happy.

We managed to finish that off, and to replace it with…

Disaster.  I don’t know what happened.  I went to make one of my old stand-by dishes, a spinach-tomato-and-chickpea bake, a dish I have made so many times and which is so fundamentally easy in its composition that I don’t even have a recipe anymore.  And yet this time it turned out weird and watery and I still haven’t figured out what went wrong.  We choked it down the first night and then it sat in the fridge for two days while I wondered if there was any way to save it.  Last night I threw a bunch of curry spices in a pot with some chopped potatoes and cauliflower, and then added the spinach yuckiness, which resulted in a tolerable (although still not entirely enjoyable) curry.  I also put it in a nice serving dish, which is another trick I have for increasing edibility.  However, the addition of more vegetables increased the volume to such an amount that there are, again, leftovers sitting in the fridge.

I really, really hate throwing food away, even when I really, really don’t want to eat it.  But at the same time, I have a very low tolerance for food repetition, especially if it is a food that didn’t taste good the first time I ate it!  There is a good chance that this curry will languish another day or two until I give into the guilt and throw it away.  I doubt even the stray cats that live off my garbage will be interested in it!

 

P.S.  Do you have any favorite leftover-saving tricks?