Culture Shock

Culture Shock:
"The personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life
due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments,
or simply travel to another type of life."
(Source: wikipedia)

While traveling this summer, I had friends and family members continually ask, "are you experiencing any kind of culture shock?" My answer from the very first day was always a resounding "no". I knew I was stepping completely outside of my "normal" comfort zone, and I had mentally prepared myself to take in any and all unexpected experiences that came my way. I was open to it all - people, food, sights, travel, culture, etc. I tried to approach everything with a completely open mind to learn as much as I could about the countries, people, and way of life in each particular location.

What I wasn't prepared for was coming home. While jet-lag has likely contributed to my disorientation, I'm confused (and amused!) at how completely out of place I feel. Absolutely nothing changed about my home - everything was just how I left it, including the laundry on my drying rack and the graduation gifts from my family (which reminds me that yes, I really am a Harvard graduate. The diploma is still here.). I see the ongoing progress of some constructions projects around the city, yet the roads, cafes, shops, and daily life of Boston is still buzzing along. My friends still have their warm, welcoming hugs, friendly smiles, kind words, and excitement of spending time together again. I'm not saying that I wanted any of this to change - I didn't! - but I feel completely out of place walking back into a life that still remains more or less the same.

After 48 hours, I'm beginning to recognize that what has changed has everything to do with my own mental orientation. I've lived another type of life these past three months. My experience - leaving everything behind for unknown experiences - was the abnormal one in this situation. In returning home, of course my perception on life, especially the normal life as I used to know it, has 100% changed. I'm looking at what used to be my "typical" life through a totally different set of eyes. It's a view and perception that will never return to the way it used to be.

While I physically look the same, I don't quite know how to communicate my mental shift to those around me. How do I articulate, in any coherent and/or concise way, how I've changed? What I've learned? What I've seen? How it's impacted me? Life is all about individually interpreting and making sense of our experiences, and finding a way to use it (or not) to continually evolve throughout our lives. Now, the challenge is for me to figure out how to use the experiences from the past three months (and, frankly, the last two years of my graduate studies) for some type of good work.

My wish is that we all have courage to embrace culture shock at different points of our existence, and to challenge ourselves to "travel" to another type of life.