The first thing they teach you when you do study abroad (or at least the first thing you should be taught, or learn) is that you shouldn’t compare your own culture, country, and language to the host culture, country, and language. This is because, if you do this compare and contrast behaviour, it results in thinking that one thing is good and another thing is bad. In other words, it’s always a competition, when in reality you are comparing apples to oranges, as the saying goes.
I’m not sure how reverse-culture shock works, but I would assume the same applies…
I’m back in the U.S. of A and so far I’m trying my best not to compare and contrast my experiences abroad to my experiences here. Before moving back to the Bay this week I was spending some time in the mile-high city, Denver, visiting my sister. On a few occasions we had the opportunity to go to the outdoor pool to swim laps. I welcomed this chance with arms wide open since I haven’t been able to really go swimming since moving from Guadeloupe. As soon as I plunged my head under the water in the pool I knew it was going to be a totally different experience. In Guadeloupe, when I swam, I went down to the beach closest to my house (about 4km away) and jumped in and just started swimming, hugging the coast. I didn’t even have to swim along the coast if I didn’t want, I could swim in whatever direction I felt like. In reality, I could jump into the ocean anywhere I chose.
One of my favorite places to jump in and swim, although the current could be a little weird sometimes, was a little beach by Vieux Fort that had a little dock and you could swim to the lighthouse nearby or in the other direction towards the grand metropolis of Basse-Terre. There, you could see many fish, with vibrant colors, interesting swim patterns, eating each other, what have you. In these waters was where I saw my first sea turtle up close, the first time I saw a clown fish, and where, one time, the current almost took me away had it not been for a friendly surfer. Learning how to swim in, and then fully enjoying these open waters, was such an awesome experience I cannot really give it justice by writing about it here.
The pool close to my sister’s house in Colorado, in comparison, is relatively small, it has 6 lanes, each one separated by a blue, white, and red hard-plastic coily thingy that you see in different pools both here and abroad. People swim back and forth, some doing a well-choreographed workout routine, while others kind of just do what they want. People kind of keep to themselves and are really in the work-out mode for the hour or so they are there.
Each time we went I plunged into the water and the cool, clear, and soothing liquid flows over me like a sigh of relief. Just letting me be, floating, without restraint, down my lane. I switch over to free-style and I try to make my breaths routine, controlled. I look up to breathe and I catch glimpses of the blue, blue sky with only a few clouds in sight. If I look over far enough I can see the mountain range, consistent, a solid unmoving mass.
And then, I’m suddenly back in Guadeloupe and the rhythm of my body gliding in the water fits perfectly with the rhythm of my breathing and I am in a meditative state. Stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe, look at clouds and the blue expanse above. Stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke, look at the chipping paint on the pool floor, breathe, repeat. C’est comme ça et ça, ça me fait du bien. J’aime bien la natation et j’aime beaucoup le sentiment après…de fatigue total. It’s like that, and that is so good for me. I love swimming and the feeling it gives me afterwards, of utter fatigue.
The other day, while still in Colorado, I meditated for a bit. The class was called “Explore Your Own Innate Vastness.” I thought it was kind of pretentious title. You know when something is just too much? Well, that title was definitely it. But these days I’ve kind of been struggling with purpose and my calling and all that kind of stuff, so this seemed to be relevant to my present state-of-mind. As I meditated I began to feel that now is the time in my life for some stillness.
Once upon a time in high school, I took AP Psychology—my all-time favorite class in high school. In fact, after the class was over, I talked seriously to my teacher about how I could major in Psychology in college. I really liked his method of teaching, a humanist at heart and in practice, he taught his students through a teaching method where we wanted to learn because he and the subject matter spoke to our feelings, our emotions, our reality—I mean, we were high school students. One day he showed us a technique used for relaxation by trying it on the class. He asked us all to lay down on the carpeted floor of the classroom in, what I know now to call shavasana, or “total relaxation pose.” We laid down and he proceeded to tell us to tense every muscle of our body and then relax, from the crown of our head to our tippy toes. This process took about five minutes. Starting with every muscle in our face, going down our neck, torso, and then extremities. At the end he told us to focus on our breath for another couple of minutes. And then it was over. I checked my pulse at the end of that meditation and I can tell you for certain that it was a whole lot faster than my resting heart-rate. I think that relaxation had down the exact opposite than it was intended to do.
Now I know that it’s because that technique required stillness, an art that I haven’t fully mastered yet. I thrive, as you may know by now, with constant movement. By thinking about the next thing. By planning my next journey. I even think better while in motion as my last blog entry suggested.
I have taken some time to find myself by traveling, but stillness is what I need to practice now.
Today, I was sitting around the house being rather sentimental, or what normally happens to me in every move (be it from overseas or domestic). I feel like the stages of reverse culture shock for me are not the typical for everyone. [By the way, if you have experienced reverse culture shock, as well as culture shock, I would be interested in your story!] Typically it’s as follows:
- Initial euphoria
- Irritability and hostility
- Readjustment and adaptation
The first two occur at the end of your time abroad. When back in your home country there is some spillover of euphoria and then the feelings of irritability and hostility come in to play. Finally, the time of adjustment happens and homeostasis returns.
For me, I feel as though I go directly into readjustment and adaptation. This is probably due to the fact that I have moved and transitioned so much during the course of my life and especially when I was younger. Now, every time I move and then come back “home,” everything just seems to be a time of readjustment and adaptation–almost as a survival technique.
Needless to say, currently I’m in the readjustment and adaptation phase and my mood today is nostalgic. This nostalgia is the good kind, in fact I tend to enjoy nostalgia immensely as it keeps me connected to my people. And, with this post I wanted to say a word of gratitude to all those people that have been a blessing to me this past year in Guadeloupe, in France, in Spain…I love you all! You have opened your houses, your customs, your cultures, your languages, your hearts to me and I cannot thank you enough for the time I got to share with you. I want to practice stillness for a while, but je suis très certain qu’il y a tout le monde pour connaitre et j’avais bien commencer…I am certain that there is more of the world to see and I have only just started.