Re-Learning to be a Normal U.S. Citizen

Well, friends…fans…cats who happened to stop by this page while using the computer to complete world domination plans in the absence of your human owners who foolishly decided to leave you home alone to go grocery shopping at Walmart…

I’m home. Back in the good ol’ Mitten.

house

photo credit: Tom Stout

Just kidding. Michigan doesn’t look like this in August; that would be ridiculous. This was taken in July. That’s right. My friends and family had Fourth of July barbecues out of necessity rather than luxury. The power went out for three days straight, and they had to keep warm the old fashioned way.

Okay, okay. I’ll be serious now.

Before you study abroad, people may tell you to anticipate reverse culture shock once you come home. In theory, it sounds strange. How could you experience culture shock in a country in which you’ve lived your whole life (or most of it)? You know how things work in your home country. You’re used to how things work in your home country.

The thing about us humans, however, is that we are pros at adaptation. Throw us into a new culture, and we’ll get the hang of it with time. But once we fall into the rhythm of that new culture, our brains get set into that rhythm. Then before we know it, we’re back home and then the rhythm returns to the way it was originally, and we have to get used to that. It’s like daylight savings. Or sleeping in during the summer and then getting up early for school in the fall. Or switching from double-ply toilet paper to single-ply toilet paper and then back to double-ply toilet paper (now that I think of it, that was actually one of the changes I faced throughout the study abroad/return process).

So it’s an adjustment. Sometimes you have to think twice before doing something. Sometimes you make a “mistake” in your own culture. Sometimes you notice things about home that you didn’t really notice before, and they bother you. And then other times you might say, “Ahhh, I missed this. It’s good to be back.” Whatever the case, you get used to it. You reorient. You return to normal. Your heart goes on—near, far, wherever you are.

Now at this point, you may be you may be expecting me to list the types of culture shock I have undergone (and perhaps still undergo, to a certain extent). And to that, I would say, “Right you are, person! Or cat.” So here we go—ways in which Allison had to reorient herself, be it during her short hiatus in between Summer Sessions I and II, or be it after the study abroad process as a whole:

    • Air conditioning was a biggie, especially in my brief trip home after Session I. Air conditioning is not much of a thing in Costa Rica. Frankly, it’s not necessary because temperatures in the Central Valley area are relatively mild. They were in the mid to high seventies when I was there. And—okay, I know it’s supposed to be humid during the rainy season, but it’s really not. Not in the Central Valley area. It’s just rainy. So in general, temperatures were pretty tolerable, and if it got too bad, I threw open a window. When I returned to Michigan in between sessions, my sister said, as we drove home from the airport, “Can we turn on the air conditioning?” It was a little stuffy, but not too bad. “We rely too heavily on air conditioning!” I fumed to anyone who would listen.

 

    • Considering that I just wrote 143 words about air conditioning, this next one is going to seem a bit contradictory: humidity. Like I said, there was little humidity in the Central Valley area (the beach towns were a different story, but I didn’t spend much time there). Michigan, on the other hand, is hot and humid during the summer. And as I’ve pointed out to several people, rain does nothing to solve that problem. If anything, it makes it worse (whereas rain in the Central Valley area makes temperatures drop). Here at home, I’ll step out of a cool building into wetness. Wetness and heat. It’s not pleasant.

 

    • In the break between Sessions I and II, I accidentally said “Gracias” to the flight attendant who handed me a complimentary lunch sack.

 

    • Toilet paper disoriented me. For one, I went from single ply to double ply. After the study abroad process was over, it wasn’t long before I accidentally grabbed a big wad of double ply toilet paper, forgetting that I didn’t need as much anymore. The bigger issue, however, was discarding used toilet paper. In Costa Rica, they don’t throw toilet paper into the toilet; they throw it into a garbage bin. After both sessions, I’ve had to think twice before tossing toilet paper into the toilet. I’ve gotten better, but I don’t think I’ve completely readjusted.

 

    • Right when I got home from Session I, I ate dinner, which consisted of meatloaf and broccoli. I guess Costa Rica is not nearly as meat-heavy as we are in the States, because there was too much meat for my liking.

 

    • I don’t know if I could classify this as “culture shock,” but I’ll mention it, anyway. Just recently, I had my first Spanish class of the Fall semester. For our first activity, we paired up and got to know each other. My partner and I had almost finished the activity when she asked, “Does it offend you that I use the tu form?” (For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, there are two main ways of saying “you”: tu and usted. Tu is typically informal and used with friends and family, whereas usted is more formal and more respectful. It’s kind of like the difference between addressing someone by their first name and addressing someone as “Mr./Mrs./Miss/Ms. [insert surname].” In Costa Rica, however, people generally do not use tu; they use usted. That, or they’ll opt for a special form of “you” called vos, which has an entirely different verb conjugation). When my partner asked this, I realized I’d been using the usted form with her. I then explained to her my situation. The occurrence was actually very uplifting; I acquired a dialect abroad!

 

    • No, but it actually was a bit odd to hear people use the tu form again. I heard it on TV in Costa Rica, but somehow it’s different when you’re speaking with someone face-to-face.
      My host family watched a lot of TV, so it was strange to hear TV in English once I returned to the States.

 

    • After Session II, my mom and I went to the grocery store. It felt weird to shop in a Meijer once more. As I told my mom, it was like a reverse cultural experience. The products are different—more United States-ized—and the stores are bigger.

 

    • The changes in daylight threw me off at first. In Costa Rica, the sun rises at 5:30 in the morning and sets at 6:00 every day. In Michigan, the sun doesn’t set until almost 9:00 (in August). There have been a few instances in which I’ve lost track of time, looked at the clock, and—because the sun was still out—have been shocked to discover that it was already 8:00.

 

  • See the picture I used at the beginning of the post? It loaded so fast for me. For a second, I was stunned. Back in Costa Rica, that same load bar filled up at a crawling pace. That’s one way in which it’s nice to be back.

So all in all, moving back into my home culture has been an adjustment—just like integrating into my host culture was a switch. But I’ve made progress. I’m almost there. When I don’t have to think twice about where to put my toilet paper and stop wailing “Why did I ever leave Costa Rica?!” when the air conditioning is too strong, I’ll know I’m fully back home.

Allison Stout is a student at Grand Valley State University and an official API Student Blogger. Allison is studying abroad with API in San Joaquin de Flores, Costa Rica.

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