Reverse Culture Shock

Just over a year ago I roamed the cobbled streets of Edinburgh, popping into shops, listening to bagpipes, and consuming copious amounts of tea and scones. I also experience quite a bit of culture shock.

When I first arrived in Scotland, I knew that I would inevitably encounter aspects of Scottish culture that surprised, and even discomforted me. Not everything was bound to be happy and seen through tartan colored glasses.

I mentioned a few of these less than spectacular things about Edinburgh in a previous post, but I will summarize a few now:

  • The commonality of smoking
  • Driving, and general traffic being on the left side of the road
  • The constant mist of rain
  • When it started getting dark at 4pm
  • Having a lot of random strangers asking my political stance and if I owned a gun upon realizing I was an American…

These things made my initial transition to Edinburgh a bit difficult. I expected many of them, as my program and extensive personal research prepared me well for catapulting my life into a new culture, but they still presented a challenge.

However, when I returned to my home country I experience another culture shock that I was not as prepared for. I knew that culture shock upon returning to the United States might happen, but for whatever reason, I didn’t think it would happen to me. I was very wrong.

Being back home with my family, boyfriend, and friends made me very happy, and stalled my initial realization of the very different country I had returned to. Nevertheless, I soon realized just how different the United States was, and how, for a while, very uneasy it made me feel:

  • Traveling: The inability to reach other countries and cultures whenever I wanted to. In Scotland, I could so easily, and cheaply, fly to another country for the weekend, whereas in the US it was much more difficult and expensive
  • People: Scottish people are very friendly, social, and playful. I was not used to walking around in public, and not having a quirky banter with a complete stranger. It made me feel quite isolated and alone in my early days back in the US
  • Political Correctness: While I was in Scotland, the concept of “PC” was present, but not as intensive and obstructive as I found it to be when I returned home. People were simply respectful and made sure to keep certain populations included, without making it difficult to hold normal conversations for fear of offending someone. The dialog was open and people knew the difference between discrimination and talking about it
  • Work Culture: After spending some time away from the American attitude of climbing the corporate ladder and working towards fiscal success, I found it unsettling to return to the idea of “living to work”

Reverse culture shock is a very real phenomenon. It is something that can be easy to overcome or very difficult and emotionally unsettling, so definitely be sure to prepare for this if you are planning any adventures of your own. Please, dear reader, do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about reverse culture shock, or are experiencing any of your own and would like to speak with someone who has been through a similar situation.

While I love my home, I still find it difficult from time to time, and consider re-transplanting my life into the mystical place it came from. Being abroad transformed my personal identity, and gave it some undeniable Scottish flair.


The Travelsmith

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