Recently I spent two weeks in Europe. I went to Barcelona, Spain, Paris, France, and Venice and Rome, Italy. It was my first real vacation as an adult.. No, really, usually I take extended weekends, but never two weeks to give myself a break from life. This particular trip was to celebrate completing and graduating from a double masters degree program!
Soon, I will post on the different aspects of the trip, but really, right now, I just wanted to take some time to highlight culture.
I love culture, regardless of the type, it fascinate me. Gender, regions, countries, familial, schools, work, etc.. all have specific cultures that are associated with them. Sometimes they are so subtle you never really feel as though you encounter a cultural difference, and then other times, it feels like hitting a brick wall at 350mph… Then, there are a few times when hitting culture shock is much more like clipping your shoulder when trying to cut around a corner too sharply, not particularly painful, but it causes a certain degree of bounce-back, and sometimes bruises.
What was interesting about my recent travels is that the culture I encountered was for the most part what I expected, there were small instances here and there that were unexpected, and even intriguing, but what shocked me the most is (and actually has always been) the return home.
I think the biggest reason I am always stunned by feeling as though I end up getting culture shock when I return home is that it is just unexpected. I expect to experience culture shock when I travel, but I am somehow always lulled into forgetting that I will likely experience it coming home.
This time, I was literally overstimulated and overwhelmed when we landed in Atlanta for our couple hour layover. I suddenly could understand everything being said around me, and then to compound it, there were hundreds upon hundreds of people talking everywhere we went! I found myself actually trying to listen to all of them because I could understand everything being said. I felt like a child who was overwhelmed and just wanted to cover my ears and squeeze my eyes shut.
It took my brain a solid four days before I stopped feeling odd that I could understand everyone around me. I think this time, while not the longest trip I have taken to a place where I could not understand those around me, it was mentally an entirely different trip. I allowed myself and my brain to wind down and relax, so as we walked around for hours upon hours every day, I did not need to communicate or understand most of what was being said around me. So, instead my mind wandered, and prayed, and rested, and was entirely present. Whereas normally, I am planning, thinking, strategizing, praying, rehearsing, replaying, planning, and basically anything that needs to be paid attention to, I work to pay attention.
What feels odd is that, there are times that I feel like my mind has not kicked back into full gear yet, despite the fact that I have been home for almost a month already. I end up feeling more than a little frustrated that I have not found my normal stride once more. Then, there are other times that, I am so beyond thankful that my mind figured out how to create space to just be present, pray, think, and relax.
I have no idea if I am the only one who experiences this type of culture shock, but it has happened enough times now that I think I have to admit soundly that returning home is always the bigger culture shock to me. Each time I come home the culture shock is different, sometimes it is the noise level, other times it is being able to understand the people, and once it was the sheer amount of visual stimulation and amount of luxury. Each time I come home, I realize how blessed I am, but how much I actually enjoy gaining perspective on the world and myself.
Cultural differences in and of themselves are not bad things, and in fact, I actually think they are good things because they force us to often look at what we see as normal and determine if our normal is actually good or right itself.