Reverse culture shock and homesickness

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Coming back home after one year studying in the US, I experienced a lot of confusing emotions and different culture differences that were once normal to me. The moment I left Indianapolis airport, I did not expect everything at home to be so strange and unfamiliar to me despite the fact that I had spent most of my life living there.

After three long flights, I eventually arrived at Hanoi airport and the first thing that hit me was the familiar humid and polluted air. It made me miss the cool and fresh atmosphere in Indiana crazily. The language that people speaking to me sounded like a foreign language that I could not comprehend. Everything back home seemed too small to me as in America, mostly everything is huge. I was not prepared at all.

1. Traffic

It is crazy. I was genuinely scared of joining the traffic in Hanoi. The street is always crowded and there are cars, motorcycles, motorbikes, motorcycles carrying enormous goods, constant honking, etc. Many people also do not follow the traffic rules and would only focus on getting everyone else out of their way. This is so much different from my experience of living in a suburb area of Indiana where traffic is a lot less intense and people would patiently let others pass them even without any traffic light. It took me a month to eventually ride my bike on the street again which was not a big deal to me before then.

2. Thank-you and Sorry culture

One of the first things I noticed when I first arrived in America is thank-you and sorry culture. People say thank you as often as they apologize for very small actions of themselves or others, even among family members. I thought that was a really cool etiquette to bring more pleasures that I should apply to my daily life in Vietnam and make it a new custom here. Not so easy. The first few days I was home, I thanked my Mom so often for small things such as getting me a shampoo or making me a drink that she was a little frustrated. She told me that I sounded like a polite guest and that this is not suitable in Vietnamese culture as it makes people feel more distant. I was only trying to show my appreciation for little things! It apparently did not work well.

3. Materialism vs. catching up

An Indonesian student named IIham mentioned this culture difference in his story of going back home. You can read his story here http://blogs.voanews.com/…/reverse-culture-shock-is-a-lone…/. As for me, I did really feel the same way. Because two of my suitcases were literally stuffed and many things are expensive, I did not think about buying gifts for my family and relatives (I myself did not spend much money in America because I knew my parents already tried so hard to afford my exchange program). However, I was excited to tell everyone about my American adventure. But besides my immediate family and best friend who actually caught up with all of my activities in America on Facebook, there was barely anyone who truly cared about my study abroad experience. After a year away from home, all I have to maintain a conversation with people here is what I experienced in America and when they do not show their interest in my stories, I felt isolated or as IIham would describe his feeling, disconnected. This prevented me from socializing with others for the first few months because I felt like no one would understand me.

4. Less intense life

I had gotten used to the fast-paced life of Americans who would try to cram everything in their schedules and get things done as quickly and as much as possible. Vietnamese people do not have that sense of saving time. They are more relaxed and do more family-related activities. For the first few months back home, I still had the fear of time flying very quickly and I needed to do a lot of things to not regret wasting time. Anything that kept me busy would make me happy. My parents told me that I was overworking while I myself still feel like I am not doing as much as I did in America.

5. Reverse homesickness

As an exchange student, I had a unique opportunity to live with an American family and over the course of a year, I became very close to the family members who now genuinely consider me a part of their family. Just after a few flights, I was back in Vietnam and half way across the world from my host family. That hit me so hard. The experience reminded me of the day I left my Vietnamese family to go to America and I did not expect to feel so lost again in my home country. Even though I was happy to be home again, a part of me still always connects with my second home in Indiana.

6. A lot of emotions

There are tons of confusing emotions that I went through: disconnected, depressed, morose, confused, bored, and even angry at myself. Not to mention that I would fall asleep at 4 pm and be up by 10 pm. It took me more time to readjust to coming back home than to going to America. However, an experience like this makes me stronger and more independent. I know that there will be time in the future I will have to adjust to very different environments, people or cultures like this and I will need to find my way to balance.

If you are about to or are going through the same experience, don’t try to hold back your frustration or depression. Find someone to talk to and keep busy. As for me, I talked to my American friends and constantly kept contact with my host family and updated them on my life back home. It is very difficult, yes, but remember to embrace the whole journey and grow.

Jen Tran – Social Media Assistant

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