Credit to Designbolts.com
A part of being abroad is the eventual re-entry into one’s country of origin. During this time people often experience what is known as “reverse culture shock”. After studying abroad multiple times, reverse culture shock is not necessarily something foreign to me; but, it is something that still deeply affects how I go about my daily activities.
Population Density Fight or Flight Reflex
Something about China that never evades discussion is the population. Not only is there a large population, but in many cities where foreigners will live, the population is quite dense. Alone time is essentially nonexistent. Want to go camping or hike by yourself? There will be herds of people doing the same scenic hike as you. Want five minutes in your dorm room to breath? Too bad you share it with seven other people. Think your daily commute is going to be therapeutic? Get ready to be molested by strangers on the subway. People are everywhere. Because of this, the Chinese people have developed different cultural habits. It is a rarity that someone will apologize for bumping into someone else on the bus, because let’s face it, they would have had to apologize 10 times for their 10 minute commute. It just isn’t worth it. People often push through lines and crowded marketplaces to get where they are going or what they want. The terms, “crowded” and “bustling” have become my status quo.
Fast forward to my return to Suburbia, United States. The amount of space I have been allotted is overwhelming. If someone pushes me, it might be considered rude. I no longer need to fight for the best produce. I stand in line patiently for my pharmaceuticals. The battle-ready complex I had developed for public situations is completely unnecessary. I now need to repress my need to “fight” for things. The pent-up energy makes me anxious in public situations. I can barely handle myself at a restaurant, because I always have the urge to yell for the waiter. I am now a nervous wreck. I know that eventually this will wear off, but for I am always a bit slightly apprehensive to go out.
People have this misinformed idea that Chinese food is so incredibly healthy. The Chinese people on a whole tend to be thinner than most other countries. Folks think that this is because in China, everyone magically eats more vegetables. On the contrary, Chinese culture typically involves a staple food (rice, noodles, bread, dumplings) and then dishes that may or may not involve vegetable and meat dishes that are at times doused in oil. Yum. However, this is not weight-loss inducing. But, people walk everywhere, ride their bikes, stand on the bus, and exercise frequently. The amount of calorie burn I experienced in China was much higher than that in the United States. I would either walk or bike to class. I would ride the bus to the grocery store and carry my own groceries long distances. I would often play badminton with my students, and run to get some “me-time”.
Now I am back in the United States where I drive everywhere, throwing groceries in the back of the car to schlep inside once I get home. I am no longer motivated to exercise and run like I used to be. I spend most of my time sitting. I was quite happy with my weight Pre-USA-Return, now I’m steadily gaining weight due to this different lifestyle. There are still plenty of things I can do to manage my weight here, but it is just not as easy. I have less energy. I still like running and sports, I just do not as readily participate. It is a sort of weird empty feeling.
I Understand You and You Understand Me
The most disappointing thing of all, is that everyone understands English. While in China, I normally could say whatever I wanted as long as I spoke quickly. I developed the habit of cursing during class, outwardly talking about people right in front of them (Not rude things, mostly checking out attractive menfolk, okay?!). Basically, the need to filter my words was not an issue in China.
Apparently, I need to redevelop that ability. Although I think that everything I say is absolutely hilarious and should be written in my future best-selling book, I guess the rest of the world may not share this sentiment. I was constantly reminded this past weekend on a shopping trip in Columbus with my besties, that I needed to hush myself. The wonderful sales assistant at Ann Taylor Loft thought I was great, but my poor friends shuddered from embarrassment. Considering that I will soon be educating youths in the ways of Chinese language learning, this is something that I need to work to ameliorate. However, I also feel that a little bit of honesty is not a problem. If someone has nice tattoo, cute pair of shoes, well-behaved child, or did something nice in public, shouldn’t they be recognized for being awesome? I feel that as Americans, we are not necessarily a culture of compliments. I’m not saying that we should be throwing those things around willy-nilly, but if my nice sales assistant is obviously rockin’ her hair-do, I think she deserves a compliment. Just because.
Adventure Has Disappeared
Okay, adventure has NOT disappeared from my life exactly. But, it is available at a different rate. When in another country, one is constantly exposed to an unfamiliar environment. Even as I steadily became adjusted, everyday would still present some challenge, such as: a new character, new word, trying to order that new coffee drink in Chinese, looking for something to combat the mutant spiders and cockroaches, hunting for balloons, or trying a dish for the first time. Everyday took so much energy to get from place to place, or to use basic communication.
At home everything is instinctual. I grew up with this set of friends, I always eat these certain foods, I know what to expect while driving, traveling, shopping, eating. I know how to speak the language. I can easily ask questions. Nothing is really a “mystery” or “adventure” at home. It is easy. Too easy. Nerve-wrackingly easy. It’s uncomfortable. When exposed to another culture, or a new place, the status-quo becomes living with this extra stress. It’s challenging, but exciting. Being in the United States, I feel at a loss. There’s no challenge built-in to my everyday. If I want a challenge, I need to seek it out quite actively. It makes me feel lazy. I have an excess of energy. Sometimes I feel my mind racing from a nervousness that comes from everything being too convenient, too simple, too “easy”. My natural high has disappeared. I would not necessarily call my situation wanderlust. Everyday just feels like I have had a few cups of coffee and have nothing to do. (Which, I have plenty of activities to occupy my time.) It is not extremely upsetting, it is just a feeling that there is more, and that I could constantly be challenging myself to fulfill my greatest potential.
Luckily, my friends are pretty awesome and understanding. Many of them have traveled internationally before, and they get it. They laugh when I say “Confession Stand” instead of “Concession Stand”, and help me do things such as get seated at a restaurant, support my weight management attempts, shake their heads at my unfiltered comments, and are actively making plans for our own adventures. Becoming readapted to one’s home culture is not necessarily an easy thing to do, but with supportive friends and family, it is possible. Especially when they are willing to create more adventures in the future with you.
 This article has pretty charts that support the fact that Chinese people in general aren’t fat. It’s also a good read if you’re interested in the obesity epidemic. http://www.vox.com/2014/11/17/7230641/maps-charts-obesity-weightloss