After five months in China, getting back to my real life in northern Michigan hasn’t been all that easy. The CIP at K warned us that reverse culture shock is actually pretty tough, and as weird as it seems to be uncomfortable in your own skin, it’s actually a difficult feeling to get away from. Home seems very mellow and quiet, and on my drive to Kalamazoo last night I felt a little suffocated by the dark open spaces and the lack of cars and buildings. It’s not that I’d want to be stuck in the urban jungle of Beijing forever, but it’s interesting how adept you become at reevaluating everything after giving something new an honest go.
There’s also the Cardinal Rule of Study Abroad to think about: You can never convince anyone that your experience was the best. (Except maybe your parents.) Talk about it all you want, and you’ll probably come across as self absorbed. Try to be persuasive and they’ll think you’re annoying. Sure, people will listen and the occasional off-handed goofy story is fun, but I just want to gush about it all the time, and that doesn’t work with everyone. I want to thank people in lines for waiting so patiently. In public bathrooms I want to tell everyone they should be grateful for the mall staff giving them toilet paper. Excuse me, you think that ham, egg, and cheese breakfast croissant is just okay? Try having watery rice porridge, cold steamed vegetables, and a prepackaged salted egg for breakfast. Panera, your iced tea is out of this world. You have a nice day too, sir – why yes, the weather is beautiful today! Wait staff at restaurants are so friendly and careful and you’re taking it for granted. (There’s more, but I’ll stop.)
It’s going to be a little tough to be back on campus with everyone else who is also just getting back. It can be tough to just swallow some of the things you want to say so badly and be quiet instead, accepting that your own experience was exactly what you needed, that you made the changes you needed to make to suit your own life, your own future, and to nod and know that whoever it is asserting whatever they’re asserting has the same exact feelings about wherever they went. I’m not saying I’m not proud of my experience or that I won’t talk about it if the topic comes up, or even that I won’t gush if I’m asked. I probably will. It’s just interesting to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, something I’ve gotten pretty good at lately.