Reverse culture shock is a peculiar sensation – when you feel like a complete stranger in the place that’s supposed to be your home, it’s unnerving, to say the least. I’d been overseas for nearly nine months, so finally returning stateside was a difficult transition. I did it in such a way, though, that I totally tricked myself into thinking I had avoided culture shock altogether. I visited friends in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia before I actually went home home to Wisconsin, so I was still traveling, just in my own country. It was so weird to be halfway home, in a sense – I definitely felt the familiarity of America, but the East Coast just isn’t the same.
My first time to New York City – wow! Everything is so big and exciting! There is so much energy! Americans are so friendly and chatty! (Yes, even New Yorkers seemed friendly to me). I love this country, this is amazing! I’m so proud to be from here. Wow, I can get a New York Bagel! Oh my god, I can actually understand everyone for once! Holy shit, is that Chipotle? America is the best! I’m so glad to be home!
Then I got back to Wisconsin, and an immediate sense of dread set in. It was really cold, the sky was a flat, depressing grey, the trees had barely sprouted leaves even though it was already May. Absolutely nothing had changed in my hometown – which was so weird because I had changed so much! When we pulled up to my parents’ house, I felt like I had never left. After nine months of galavanting around Europe and meeting people from literally all around the world, here I was, back in this boring, conservative, vanilla town that I had always hated.
I basically freaked out. Wisconsin seemed so small and insignificant. Really? I thought. Out of all the places on this wonderful, beautiful, exciting planet, this is where I’m from? This godforsaken place, where you can drive 400 miles in any direction and everything is exactly the same? Where you’ll see nothing but endless cornfields, crappy motels, and roadside Denny’s? I couldn’t believe I’d spent my whole life growing up here, just a random speck right in the middle of the unfathomably vast United States. It seemed so wrong. I felt so trapped. What on Earth was I doing here?
My mind became flooded with flashbacks of introducing myself to people in Europe. No one quite knew how to respond when I told them I was from Wisconsin. Where? they said. What’s that? Is that a city? Why do you live there? Oh, that must be in “flyover country” – you know, the boring part of the US where there’s nothing but farmland and Trump supporters. No wonder no one ever wanted to visit me. Why would they?
I couldn’t seem to control all the negative thoughts I was having about being home – it’s so boring! Nothing changes here! It’s so far away from absolutely everything! It’s the least diverse place ever! I hate this place so much! I didn’t even realize I was having reverse culture shock – I thought I was just going crazy. I actually felt a bit sick and very depressed for about a week before I finally calmed down.
After a lot of almost anxiety attacks, I began to feel a bit more at home. I started my old landscaping job again to earn back some of the money I’d spent, and it was nice to see familiar faces at work. My coworkers asked a lot of questions about my travels, and it made me feel good to know that people actually cared about what I’d been doing. Slowly, I began appreciating Wisconsin again for what it is – a bit boring, yes, but it will always be a home to me, and it’s a genuine privilege to be within reach of family, close friends, and nice coworkers. Plus, it really is pretty in the summer. We may not have mountains or beaches, but we have fireflies and pretty lakes and lovely rolling farmland for days. And we have cheese curds.
I definitely do not want to stay in Wisconsin forever, but for now it’s nice to be home. We’ll see how long I can manage to be here before my wanderlust comes calling again.