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Traveler Re-Entry and Reverse Culture Shock

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Traveler Re-Entry to Home Country

“Why would anyone return to where they came?”
-from the film, Such a Long Journey

Coming home means being a nobody again.

I have gotten use to being a foreigner, being someone – something – different, being the focal-point at which people gaze and stare. I like people looking at me and wanting to talk to me, and I have molded my character around this attention, around being the foreigner.
————–
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Brooklyn, New York City- November 23, 2008
Travelogue Travel Photos
————–

But in New York City I am not a foreigner, I am nothing special. I am just another pin-head in the circus. This city is a foreign environment to me, I have never been anywhere remotely similar, and I feel like a foreigner here . . . but I am not. I am another face in a crowd and nothing special or worthy of attention.

I think travel has spoiled me. In New York City I feel like a brat child that is not loved my its parents.

I believe that many travelers encounter this feeling upon arrival back at where they started from, upon realizing that they are just a nobody again.

“After seven years in Germany I returned to New York City,” wrote Joann Halpern in a Peace Corps publication, “where the mayor didn’t even call me . . . Local newspapers weren’t jamming my phone lines asking “the New Yorker” for interviews, and Manhattan restaurant owners didn’t greet me with a welcoming hug when I walked into their restaurants.”

A person outside of their own country and culture for an extended period of time sometimes develops an odd sort of persona – a way of acting and seeing themselves – that moves beyond the way they were before they departed. Situations, environments, and experiences shapes and molds a person throughout their lives, and traveling speeds up this metamorphosis exponentially. Travel puts you in a constantly swirling landscape: people, places, thoughts, and experiences whirl by in rapid fire succession. In this dynamic it is easy to learn about yourself and your place in the world. Travel changes, makes, and forms the mind: to travel is to change. I know that I am changed.

I am also aware of the fact that I am showered with much more attention when in other countries than in the one I grew up in, and this attention becomes addictive – it becomes expected. I have cultivated my character as “the foreigner,” and I feel lost without this mask. Coming back to the USA is to demask myself and show a figure that is not what it appears to be.

I have to come up with different mechanisms for communication while abroad than when I am in the USA, and these mechanisms harshly mesh in with my native country. I feel far more like I am putting on a show in my home country than when I am a visitor in another. I find that I either act out in the USA – sometimes even getting arrested – or I abscond. I have absconded here in New York City.

I am missing a good show, though it is one that I found difficult to watch anyway.

I have no mask in the USA, I have no where to hide, and I feel lost in the crowd. I am just another American, and I could not put on my foreigner face, even if I tried. The world is accessible to those who know no cultural boundaries. When abroad, I often pretend that I am far more oblivious to cultural restrictions than I really am, and I have found that foreigners are often times not held to the same restrictions than locals.

A foreigner is a wild card. Being from outside of a culture means that you can oftentimes act how you wish, that you can be yourself. I am not a wild card in my own country, for I know the rules and I know the restrictions, I know the symbols, and I know the meanings. I am not an ignorant traveler trying to learn and understand, rather, I am a part of the scenery.

I do not like the way this feels.

I am not really a part of the ebb and flow of the USA. In no other culture in the world do I feel more removed, more isolated, and more withdrawn. I simply cannot seem to be able to function here. Perhaps, this is because I understand too much – I am not bewildered by the surface static, I can see deep into the culture and know all too well that I have no place in it. I feel like a misfit because I understand what is going on – there are few riddles, no puzzles.

Perhaps I just do not find the USA very interesting. Perhaps a culture unveiled is one removed from its mystic.

I do not want a car, I do not watch TV, I care nothing for politics, and my knowledge base is situated around the ways of culture, geography, and travel. To be embedded in the landscape of a community is not for me. I would much rather stick up, stand out, and be awkward.

It is difficult for a traveler to talk about their journeys to people who do not travel. I have found that there is usually a barrier of experience that is difficult to cross, and that there is simply not the basic building blocks of knowledge to have a conversation that goes beyond a monologue. On my first journeys back to my own country after traveling abroad I tried to tell my friends about all of the exciting time that I have had, I tried to tell them stories of the Open Road, and I tried to inform them about other ways of life in other lands.

I just looked like a dick.

Yes, I thought that telling traveler tales was something that a traveler had to do once returning home, but I just looked like I was bragging. It seemed as if I was rubbing my experience into the faces of my friends: I was out traveling the world while they were home working. I found it difficult to find fertile ground to tell my stories, and it became apparent that traveler tales were for travelers alone. So I stopped talking about travel to people who do not engage in the practice themselves. But this leaves a large portion of what I would like to say unsaid.

“One thing you can count on upon your return: no one will be as interested in hearing about your adventures and triumphs as you will be in sharing those experiences. This is not a rejection of you or your achievements, but simply the fact that once they have heard the highlights, any further interest on your audiences’ part is probably unlikely.” – Re-Entry Shock

In many ways I have become trapped in the circle of my lifestyle, but I suppose this is normal, as it is my impression that people can only relate to that which they have experienced. Traveling is no better than having a home, family, or car: it is just different. A lawyer would probably speak differently to me than with their lawyer friends.

“Like culture shock, which you experienced while abroad, re-entry shock, too, has distinct stages. Stage one: Disengagement may happen before you leave your host country and often times occurs because of the pace of finals, goodbye dinners. As a result, you begin to distance yourself from friends and host country nationals. Stage two: Initial Euphoria may also occur as a result of leaving your host country and returning to the US. This is where you may have formed idealistic views of home, and what will happen upon your return. You are happy to be home! This feeling of euphoria may last a few weeks, but may inevitably give way to feelings of loneliness. This is Stage three: Irritability and Hostility, which is the realization that life at home went on without you, and as you were learning new things and making subtle changes, they were too. You may feel that friends and family don’t understand or want to hear what you experienced abroad.” – Re-entry and Reverse Culture Shock

I no longer have any illusions of the first two stages, rather I just jump right to the third: Irritability and Hostility.

My experiences are typical. These are the normal processes of traveling. Once you set out on the Road, there is no returning home. Travel is not only addictive, but it is


But one soothing point does come out of being in the USA: anonymity. I am really enjoying the fact that I have not been asked where I am from, where I am going, and where I had been in two months.

Breathing fresh sighs of relief and just waiting out this last month until I get my face back. The farther you travel on any Path, the farther it is to return. This Path is not leading back to where it began.

Related Pages:
Re-entry and Reverse Culture Shock
Re-entry Shock
Reverse Culture Shock
USA- Back in the USA
USA- Things are hard in the USA

USA- Travel- Happiness- and Aging
USA- Visit to USA- Back to Family

Links to previous travelogue entries:

  • Educational Autobiography
  • No Dollar Days in Brooklyn
  • How to Publish a Magazine

Traveler Re-Entry to Home Country
* Travel Blog Directory * Traveler Photographs.com * Travel Questions and Answers

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Filed under: New York City, Travel Philosophy, USA

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Polis, Republic of CyprusMap