Native Culture Shock

December 3, 2014

I’ve been meaning to sit down and put my thoughts to words for a week now. Arriving in the United States after 3 years abroad was certain to be a bit of a transition. This long separation is compounded by the nature of my lifestyle: the constantly shifting landscape (literally and metaphorically); the unique challenges of a life at sea; establishing myself for life and work in a (not so, but still) foreign country; and the very real fact that I have, over the past 3 years, manifested a life that is as close to my personal ideal as one can get while still balancing the needs and desires of three other individual beings.

Given these considerations, I should not have been at all surprised to find myself in a mild but persistent state of anxiety and disorientation. But it was a surprise. After all, I came back to visit and good , in the place that I come from. I know the houses, and the faces, and the attitudes, and everyone sounds just like me. I can navigate any situation natively, without giving much thought to the social dynamics, even driving on the wrong (I mean right?) side of the road was no problem.  But even though all of these things are just as I remember them, something has changed.

For the past week, I’ve been trying to put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the cold, which I haven’t experienced like this in eleven years. Maybe it’s the consumerism (I’ve been buying buying buying since I got here). Maybe its the… It wasn’t until I started discussing this post with my mom that I (well, she actually) figured it out. is pretty much just as I left it. It’s me that has changed.

I have created a life and lived an experience that is so tangential to the one I started from, that the people I grew up with don’t even have the context to understand my reality. The things people want to know about my trip seem irrelevant, superficial. I love talking about the beautiful places we visited, don’t get me wrong. But the thing that has made this reality ideal for me, has more to do with the moments in between. This ideal reality is born of self-sufficiency and competence, of relationships and their safeguarding, of teamwork and camaraderie, of obstacles overcome, and yes, to some extent beautiful turquoise water and white sand beaches. But what makes the destinations so sweet is what it took to arrive there.

Many of my cruising (and traveling) friends warned me that something like this would happen. I was almost prepared. But really, nothing can prepare you for feeling like a visitor in your native culture. As I struggle to adjust, to reacclimate (or reacclimatise as we say in Oz) a part of me worries that I might lose myself in the effort. That if I accept this reality, that my ideal might slip away. It is this struggle, the struggle to maintain my sense of self in a place where my self was born, that is causing me to feel lost where I know all the streets by heart.

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4 comments

  1. Comment by Charity

    Charity December 3, 2014 at 10:52 am

    “As I struggle to adjust, to reacclimate (or reacclimatise as we say in Oz) a part of me worries that I might lose myself in the effort. That if I accept this reality, that my ideal might slip away. It is this struggle, the struggle to maintain my sense of self in a place where my self was born, that is causing me to feel lost where I know all the streets by heart.”

    Just this afternoon, the phrase “you can’t go home again” came up on the audiobook the kids and I are listening to. As I stood at the stove cooking lunch, I reflected on the phrase and its meaning, and how I feel its truth even though there’s never been a place I’ve considered “home” in the sense you describe.

    Our family, too, have spent the last decade and longer trying to define and then live our ideals. I felt like we were getting close, and then we moved to New England and found that it’s much more difficult than we realized it would be to live by our ideals here. Our plan has been to use our indefinite stint here as a challenge to live as closely to our ideals as we can in an environment that doesn’t support them, but three years later, I just feel weary and worn down by the fear that “if I accept this reality, that my ideal might slip away” (except that I fear more that my ideal will be chipped away or dissolved by the culture).

    So, despite the differences in our situations, I can relate to the feeling you write about. Thank you for sharing this, Tucker. I feel less alone for having read it.

  2. Comment by Pat Hinson

    Pat Hinson December 4, 2014 at 9:36 am

    Dear Tucker,
    I so much enjoyed this post…you nailed it….how military family members feel, that is, after living years abroad and away from their family, friends, and especially culture. It is a new life with a completely new set of “family”,friends, and ways…do enjoy your visit”home” ….and thoroughly taste every moment that is now seasoned with a perspective that only your personal experiences can bring to the table..miss you and the family.
    Aunt Pat

  3. Comment by Eric

    Eric December 4, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Tucker,

    Your post touches me and I so look forward to talking with you about it more at the upcoming coffee hour if you want to. You wrote of feeling “lost”. This sounds akin to the feeling of a child being lost. . . like, “My people have lost me. They cannot see me.” So I find myself wondering, given your new sense of self, if remembering who or what found you and who or what sees you now would help you feel oriented again. My suspicion is that you were found by something bigger than you ever knew before and that it let you get bigger too. If that resonates at all, recalling the old New Englander as one facet of the new you, without requiring yourself to all fit inside that one facet again might help. Try letting yourself look out at the world through that facet but let your awareness of the other facets endure. At least, something like this has been helpful in my experience.

    -Eric-

  4. Comment by Lynn Bernard via Facebook

    Lynn Bernard via Facebook December 6, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Beautiful! <3

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