Reverse culture shock: The journey home

Posted by stephanie on Jul 14th, 2009
2009
Jul 14

From Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, I took the shuttle offered by the Nomad tour company back to Johannesburg, enjoying the extra room on Nina (our bus) as there were only 2 other people heading back with me on the 24 seater monstrosity.  It took two-days of driving 8-10 hours for us to finally reach our destination, and the day after arriving back in Joburg it was time for me to catch my flight to Dublin.  Heading to Ireland might seem a strange way to travel back home from South Africa, but the flights to Europe are surprisingly cheap, and thanks to the generosity of American Airlines, I had a free plane ticket home that I could use from any location that AA flies directly, none of which are in Africa.  So, I decided to go back to Ireland, a place where I lived for 5 months in 2007 as a study abroad student and hope to return to often. 

 I was in love with the Ireland a long time before I even had the opportunity to go there, and that love only grows each time I get a chance to go.  On my brief nine-day visit, I spent two days in Dublin, two days in Cork, two days in Galway, and three days in Sligo.  I had been to every other city before except for Sligo, and not much has changed in two years.  Ireland is as charming as ever.  My days were spent walking around, enjoying the cool Irish summer, reading in cafes, doing some sightseeing, taking in some trad sessions, and just giving myself time to come to grips with the adventure that I was about to conclude.  It’s hard to say goodbye to something so extraordinary, but when it has become such a part of who you are, then I suppose you really aren’t concluding your adventure but only really beginning it.

 My time in Ireland was a bit of a buffer time for me to transition out of the African mindset back to the western world. It was a bit challenging in Ireland this time, not because of any difficulties getting around, but because I could feel the change in me.  I have to admit that traveling around alone in Ireland was a lot more isolating and lonely than it ever was in Africa and Asia, but this was also compounded by the nostalgia I was feeling for the friends I made my first time in Ireland and the amazing experiences I had.  I missed the conversations that I would have with strangers throughout my travels and wondering what unexpected but inevitable obstacles would greet me each day in Africa.  In a way, I began to see that the western world works too well, and at the same time, not at all.  I am a product of western culture, so I do inherently like being productive and on time, but I feel like we miss out on so much of what life is about on our constant quests to minimize the time between points A and B.  Africa would frustrate me many times, but I learned so much about being a better human being there.  Even at Reach Out, where many times I questioned exactly what I was doing or could say I accomplished there, but at the end of 2 months there, I knew more about my co-workers than I did about people at Vanderbilt I knew for 4 years and considered good friends.  The focus on relationships and community is something invaluable I took away from my trip.

I’m not yet done with my travels, even though I am back on US soil.  On Saturday I head to D.C. to attend a seminar entitled “Liberty and Current Issues” hosted by the Institute for Humane Studies at Trinity University.  There are more observations about freedom to come, as well as a summary of what I learned and gained from my time abroad and in the US!

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