What Goes Around Comes Around

[singlepic=1703,150,,,right]Lisa Lubin is a three-time Emmy-award-winning Television writer/producer/editor. After 15 years in Television she decided to take a sabbatical of sorts, which turned into 2+ years traveling and working her way around the world. She has written about the (mis)adventures that ensued as she traipsed around the globe on her travel blog, LL World Tour. She shares with us her experience with Reverse Culture Shock during her re-entry.

I handed over my stamp-laden, well-worn passport. The white, stocky immigration officer stamped it without much more than a precursory glance, looked up at me and said, “Welcome home.”

That was it?? I’d been out of the country for fifteen months, been to about 35 countries and that’s all I got? No red, flashing lights went off on his computer. No hour-long interrogations? There was no ‘what were your dealings in the Middle East?’ ‘Why were you in Turkey so long?’ Not even a ‘Wow, gosh, gee, 15 months is a really long time!’ Oh well. Very soon it would be like I had never even left.

We often hear about the post partum depression for women who’ve just given birth, well what if you’ve given birth to this huge trip and turned your world (pun intended) upside down by seeing the world?

You go off seeking adventure and that’s just what you get. Your daily life involves hiking mountains, trying new foods, being challenged to be understood in a world of foreign languages and turning strangers into almost immediate friends. It can be tiring and yet invigorating, but always consistently rewarding. It’s a natural high thanks to the constant newness that completely contrasts the routine drudgery of what constitutes our ‘normal life’ back home in today’s society.

There are so many, too many choices for everything. I mean it’s nice to live in a land where things are plentiful, but sometimes it seems a bit ridiculous.

[singlepic=1708,275,,,left]I made my way to the train and into the heart of Manhattan. I was in a bit of a daze and overwhelmed. Lights flashed, diverse masses scurried about in a semi-orderly fashion on the sidewalk, and noise was all around me, noise I couldn’t drown out, because I understood it all – the ‘noise’ of English being spoken. I was home.

I was back in the land between the two shining seas, the United States. Many had warned me about the very tough re-entry after an around the world trip like I just had and that returning back to the U.S. could be the biggest culture shock of all. I think like a good (or bad) movie, I had heard so much about this ‘reverse culture shock’ that the hype was a bit more than the real deal. But I also realized that flying from London to New York made things so much easier. It was quite a seamless transition to go in between possibly the world’s two greatest, most diverse cities.

As you can presume, I had never been away this long. So I wanted to try and see things differently here in the ‘US of A.’ You can see, do, and experience just about anything and everything in London, but nevertheless, New York City was still a bit of sensory overload. There are just so many things for your brain to absorb—no wonder people are stressed. A multitude of signs are everywhere you look, telling you something: ‘Stop!’ ‘Sale, ‘Hot Pizza’, ‘Cold Drinks’, ‘Buy this’, ‘Eat here,’ ‘Walk,’ ‘Don’t Walk,’ ‘Don’t Shoot!’, ‘Run for your life,’ etc.

[singlepic=1706,175,,,right]There are so many, too many choices for everything. I mean it’s nice to live in a land where things are plentiful, but sometimes it seems a bit ridiculous. I realized how simple my life had been for the last fifteen months. I only had a few pairs of pants to choose from each day, I had no bills to pay, and my only worries were finding a new place to stay every few weeks, booking some form of transport, and avoiding most insects. I had avoided most media while I was away. It was a really nice break from being force fed lots of information, most of which is not 100% true, and a lot of which I frankly just don’t need to know.

And then there are the stores. I went in to a drugstore (of which there are a multitude—practically one on every corner—just like the now, omnipresent Starbucks) just to buy a simple tube of toothpaste. It was intense. First I had to sort through all the brands on offer. Once I settled on one name, I had to study each package for the various differences—gel, paste, tartar control, whitening, whitening with baking soda, all natural, all chemical, 4 out of 5 dentists recommend it, with fluoride, with crystals, for sensitive gums, for gums of steel, plaque control, with scope mouthwash, minty fresh, orangey goodness, or a swirly combination of everything. Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh…my brain hurt. Do we really need all this? It was so much easier in Vietnam when I’d go into a tiny shop and buy Colgate toothpaste – because that was the only choice. No unnecessary decisions. No extra brain power wasted. And clean teeth to boot.

I was also confronted with a plethora of unguents, emollients, moisturizers, creams and lotions that claimed to firm, tighten, buff, polish, darken, shine, and improve my life, or at least the life of my skin. For more than one year I had done without nearly all of this and thanks to good marketing—now I just had to have some. It was too easy to get sucked in–in fact I think they have a lotion for that–so I just had to avoid going in these stores at all.

So what happens when you return? How do you downshift back to reality? Or do you downshift at all?

[singlepic=1709,275,,,left]They say the hardest part is returning – it’s the biggest culture shock of all – coming back home to this other reality, to boredom, to being on auto-pilot just coasting through life, to constant marketing and materialism. Don’t get me wrong, I have things and like some things, but even before traveling I never got caught up in this blitz. And, now more than ever, I see how much we are bombarded with advertising and how wasteful we are as a society in general. We buy and throw away without a second thought. From paper towels to computers…we consume and throw away, fill up our landfills, rinse and repeat.

I had felt all these aspects of the reverse culture shock – perhaps not all at once because I tried to ‘stay away’ or kept ‘going away’ even when I returned. In fact I am still living out of a bag, what’s left of my belongings are still in storage pods, and I have not completely settled down yet. Perhaps this is my way of slowly coming back to reality or never really coming back to the same reality ever again. And I am just fine with that. Life is too short to do the same thing and then die. No thanks.

Next Steps: Lisa shares tips on how to ease into the re-entry process.

Other comments

6 Comments on "What Goes Around Comes Around"

  1. John Bardos -JetSetCitizen on Mon, 22nd Feb 2010 10:23 am 

    Great post!

    I too like things but I am definitely looking forward to shedding everything to begin my travel adventure. I have been living abroad for 13 years but I still managed to accumulate far too much junk. It is so liberating to get rid of everything. No more worries. No more hassles.

    I wonder if you will be able to keep away the consumption impulses now that you are back? I don’t know if I will be able to or not.

  2. brian | No Debt World Travel on Mon, 22nd Feb 2010 12:16 pm 

    I know what you mean about re-entry to the country. I was expecting something, anything when I returned and I had all these stamps in my passport.

    I think those Immigration agents have seen all kinds of passports and itineraries. I don’t think anything you could do would phase them.

  3. Andi on Mon, 22nd Feb 2010 10:44 pm 

    Wow, I go through some difficult emotions when I return from a 2 week trip abroad, I can’t imagine 15 months!!! Really interesting thoughts… Off to check out your blog. 🙂

  4. Lauren on Wed, 24th Feb 2010 5:58 pm 

    We spent a year abroad and came back to find out things had not changed, it was a bit disappointing that we changed so much through travel and came back to find the same stuff left behind. Thats the hardest part of travel, i think.

  5. Financial Samurai on Mon, 31st May 2010 8:08 pm 

    Very cool! We all need more sabbaticals… at least 3 months every 5 years I say!



  6. Mike on Tue, 2nd Nov 2010 9:28 pm 

    I returned home after 7 years, mostly living/working in rural Thailand.

    After approx 1 year back, I am STRUGGLING badly with RVC/depression. I have not been able to secure lasting/fulfilling employment. I have a wife and a kid, so just packing a small bag and heading back into the unknown is not an option…unfortunately. It makes me smile right now to think of how simple, yet so GRAND, it was to land in Bangkok (SE Asian hub) and wonder/wander.

    Anyway, I feel a little better knowing that RVC is a very real thing experienced by other like minded wanderers/ dreamers.

    Thanks for writing!


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