The term “culture shock” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.”
If you ask me, no one can ever fully prepare for a complete change in culture and language.
However, having been back in the United States for just about three weeks, it isn’t culture shock that I am adjusting to, but reverse culture shock.
Sure, although the flight from Beijing to Chicago set me 12 hours off schedule, the fatigue and appetite changes accompanied with jet lag have since subsided. But there are still plenty of things that have left me with a “sense of confusion.”
Since it is not customary to leave a tip anywhere in China, I have found myself nearly forgetting this since I have been home. Once I remember, I spend too much time trying to figure out the math of it all in my head. Math was never my subject, anyway.
Also, upon my return, it sounded strange every time I heard people in charge, such as flight attendants, airport employees, or waiters speaking English. Whenever I overheard someone asking a question, I thought “Why are you speaking English? She won’t understand you.” But sure enough, she did, and I remembered what country I was in.
On the subject of speaking, I have realized that I am now in a place where it is acceptable to talk about the “Three T’s” that are normally a taboo subject anywhere in China. Those three T’s are Tibet, Tiananmen, and Taiwan.
Contrary to China where popular websites such as Facebook and Youtube are blocked, they are now accessible. So I have been able to get back to my social networking and video-watching.
Obviously, the way I am eating has gone back to normal now. Rice is no longer served with every meal, and I can’t buy pineapple on a stick from vendors on the street. I can’t buy milk tea anymore unless I go to Chinatown. These are all downsides. The upside is that I can now enjoy meat without all the fat, skin, or hair and fish without bones. Although I became accustomed to using chopsticks for everything, using a fork is like riding a bike and I have had no problems with that thus far.
After living in a country where it’s not safe to drink the tap water unless it’s been boiled, it’s also been a nice surprise to get back to a land where water fountains are in most public places.
Although I miss the friends I made in China, I am happy to be home and reunited with family and old friends here. So, adjusting back to life in the U.S. has had its ups and downs, an adjustment nonetheless.
Culture shock is something that can strike those who are traveling away from home in a foreign country. But next time you are abroad, depending on how long you are away for, watch out. There may just be another shock waiting for you at home.