While spending my winter break with my family in Bolivia, I received a message from a school friend in Kansas asking me, “When are you home?” It was a simple question, but it caught me off guard. She just wanted to know when I was planning on getting back to Kansas, but I was struck by how she was calling Kansas “home.” That was mind-blowing for me.
I had never stopped to think about it before but, having adapted very well to my new environment, collecting more and more personal possessions there with time and having spent 11 out of 12 months there last year, it would be foolish not to consider it something of a home.
But does it replace the place that saw my birth and first steps (more like my first twenty years)? I wasn’t comfortable even thinking about that!
In order to ease my guilt I said to myself that I couldn’t be the only one feeling torn apart. And in fact, I’m not. On this very blog, both Olena and Tara have told us about how they felt arriving back in their home country.
[Read Olena’s post: A Fresh Perspective on My Two Homes, US and Ukraine]
[Read Tara’s post: Reverse Culture Shock – How I’ve Changed in the US]
Reading their stories made me realize my struggle with redefining “home” is not unusual, but my experience was different from theirs in a key way. I don’t think I have experienced “reverse-culture shock” coming back to Bolivia.
If I were to talk about the differences between Kansas and Santa Cruz I could write pages and pages about it, but here I’d rather say that those differences don’t seem to affect me anymore, whichever place I’m in.
Which one is Lawrence and which one is Santa Cruz?
Being in Bolivia after 11 months away felt just as comfortable as when I came back for the first time. Yes, I noticed some minor changes around. My ever-changing city had new buildings where others were torn down, restaurants have changed names and locations, etc. But all of those are just superficial changes. This is the exact same place I once used to live in.
And after 18 months in the U.S. I think I have overcome any culture shock I might have had at the beginning (though looking back, I don’t think I felt that bad at the beginning either).
My experiences behind the wheel in a small American college town made me a well-behaved and respectful driver, but the minute I stepped on the gas back in my home country I knew I had to say goodbye to Mr. Nice Guy if I wanted to get where I was going… well yea, survival of the fittest.
The same thing happened with public transportation, my main form of getting anywhere in Kansas. There it’s quite comfy and easy to get used to, but when I got back into a Bolivian bus, just as I used to do in my college days here, I had no problem with getting in this small-ish (compared to the American) bus with fifty or so other people, even when I had to ride standing up bumping my 6 foot head with the 5’8’’ ceiling.
…well, having no problem with it might be an overstatement, but I am as ok with it as I was two or three years ago.
Even my internal clock got used to the time zone change immediately. And it’s not only the two hour time difference that I’m talking about, it’s the difference between a 6 pm dinner in America and a 9 pm dinner in Bolivia, or the fact that a casual meeting at “9:30” means meeting at the said place at eleven-ish, whereas in America a twenty minute delay is seen as disrespectful.
I guess it’s an exaggeration to say that I didn’t get any culture or reverse culture shock at all. I’m definitely glad I came back and had a taste of my mom’s cooking (one transition I really didn’t struggle with was from home-wanna-be-chef to momma’s boy who gets fed by her three times a day… but I guess that’s understandable). There is no way I can explain how much I missed the flavors of home – that’s been my biggest culture shock in the U.S. so far I’d say.
But also, it would be hard to describe just how frustrated I get every time I surf the web in Bolivia, especially if I need to get something done for school or work. I guess I just got spoiled in America; is that considered reverse culture shock?
Thinking about it, I have to agree with Olena, I have two homes now. And I’m happy I don’t have to decide between them.
Where are all the places you call home?