Thoughts On Reverse Culture Shock, Part 2

Christian Iezzi is an API Peer Mentor who studied abroad in Florence, Italy during the spring 2011 term. He is currently studying political science at Baruch College.

I’ve already talked about the struggles that go along with reverse-culture shock but there is a lot to be said for the unexpected clarity it can provide. Along with the challenges that it brings, it also bestows a gift of perspective that you can bring to bear on your own surroundings. It is by embracing this gift that you can cherish your memories the most. I now look at foreign tourists with a new sense of compassion because I know what it feels like to be a stranger in a new country. And now even as I fondly recall the classically inspired edifices of Italy, I try to look at my city with a new appreciation. I now take time to understand what it is about New York that impresses everyone so much. I remember seeing Italian locals walk past the buildings and sites that I was so enamored with, as if it was nothing. To them it was, since they’ve seen them for their whole lives. But bring those same people to America and show them our famous sites and they might have the same infatuation that I had with theirs.

Just the other day, I was on my way to school and I bumped into a group of tourists just staring up at something. I stopped for about 20 seconds and joined them out of pure curiosity. They were staring at the Chrysler building in midtown Manhattan. I had passed this a thousand times in the past few months alone. I stopped and took a minute to say to myself that it was actually pretty impressive. I took a picture with my Iphone for fun and moved on. This illuminates my point very well; that I noticed something that I had taken for granted and saw it through a new set of eyes. I now understand that the reason it is so tough to return home is that, in spite of the amount time I had spent abroad, everything was still relatively new and wondrous to me.

Reverse culture shock is, like many things, a double-edged sword. It makes life very tough as you return from an experience abroad. But it is in this understanding of WHY it is so difficult, that it gives you a remarkable feeling of clarity. The bottom line is that it will impact everyone who returns in one way or another but that way will be very unique to the individual. Irrespective of how it manifests itself, the best way to deal with it is to understand the reasons behind your emotions. Then you will be able to channel your energy into something positive so that you can reflect with a new fondness on what your time abroad meant to you.

Addendum: The final musing I have about this topic of reverse-culture shock (before I beat it to absolute death) is what happens further down the line. Specifically, I am referring to the desire it kindles in someone to return abroad. I am now considerably removed from my time in Italy (almost a year) and everything has resettled back into its old flow. As of late though, I have started to remember my initial confusion at returning home and in hindsight I realize how amazing it was to be able feel that bewilderment. This sounds like an idiotic statement but while at the time it felt like a toned-down version of hell, by remembering this feeling I now better understand what my time away meant for me. I remember everything that I experienced and the enjoyment that I found and I understand that it was the sudden absence of these things that made coming home so difficult. Now my goal is not to relive my Spring 2011 in Florence but to have an entirely new experience somewhere else. And yes I know that returning home will once again leave me feeling like I was hit upside the head with a blunt object, but that’s OK with me. All that will mean is that I had another experience where I was fully immersed in another culture very different from my own and enjoyed myself to the fullest. My wheels have already begun to turn and I’m excited to see where my next trip will lead me.

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