Reverse Culture-Shock

Hello from Greensboro, North Carolina, America. I’ve now been back in the United States for exactly 2 weeks.

“No story like yours is complete without the epilogue,” my friend Tom said. So I begin to write the epilogue.

In the Detroit airport, when I first stepped on American ground, I was so excited. I literally sang patriotic songs as I walked through the terminals, needless to say I got a few funny looks. In the airport, so many things were familiar, and I freaked out when I saw them – things like Skittles, signs in English, Wendy’s, bookstores, and all white people. It seems strange, but I had gotten so used to being the odd one out that it excited me to see everyone that looked just like me. My first impression of Americans in my first few hours in America were two things – 1. Everyone was really friendly and kind, and 2. Everyone was on their cell phone or texting, constantly.

These past few weeks, I’ve had culture shock to some extent, but not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I thought I would hate everything about America and its culture of materialism and appearance, but it isn’t as bad as I made it seem while in Africa. However, the biggest shock to me is food in America. The abundance of it, the convenience of it. I visited some friends at Eastern last week, and I was overwhelmed with the dining hall. All week long, I couldn’t help but call it the “Cornucopia of Bounty,” because it literally was. There were so many different options of things to eat – it was sincerely overwhelming. I couldn’t help but think that just one day of all the food consumed in that dining hall could feed so many people in the slums. How little there is there. Not that having enough to eat is bad, as a friend pointed out. For a while I criticized America for its luxuries, but many things here are just the way they ought to be for everyone, and that’s not something to criticize.

Government involvement in lives is another surprise. I keep hearing so much about Amendment One, and it’s so strange because the main issue is the government’s involvement in private lives. I got pulled over on the Interstate last week. I passed through toll booths. I have to have a current license and registration. I have to have insurance and insurance cards. It’s crazy how regulated things are and how many hoops I have to go through to do anything. In Africa things are so much simpler…and if you get pulled, you can bribe the cop.

It’s been strange transitioning back into a place where appearance matters. That’s something I’ve hated. In Africa, nothing mattered really. No makeup every day, no nice clothes – everything was about the love I gave, not the way I looked. No one cared the way I looked. It’s very strange being back in a place where at every cash register, there are magazines with provocative women on the cover offering me ways to get fit fast, be sexy, lose weight, be confident, and look my best. I hate it. Women are so much more than that! Women can be amazing, strong world-changers, lovers of all people, mothers to all, and intelligent, too. I have come to really hate women’s magazines…everything is just so completely vapid and holds no significance. Much of American cultures strikes me as insignificant – many jobs, the dating culture, friendship drama, even a lot of social networking – all of these things seem weightless to me. They seem to be filling no need, doing no good, and ultimately pretty useless. And they take up so much time! All of these things seem foreign to me now.

This next part may offend some, but it’s my honest opinion. Christianity here seems very different than it did there. I feel like the passion for Christ that was so alive at Mother Teresa’s and other places is dying here. I yearn to see passionate lovers of Christ taking a stand for the destitute, but it feels like the poor here are sequestered to government services or shelters, and they’re unseen. I see the “poverty of souls” that Mother Teresa so often referred to so clearly here. It feels like we are content to sit in our nice homes and not look at things that make us uncomfortable, when our true calling is to search those very people out, and be love to them.

I’ve been asked the following questions many times since I’ve been back, “Aren’t you just disgusted by the decadence in which we live?” “Have you realized how very lucky we are to be living here?” “Don’t we live in such luxury?”

Honestly, I haven’t really been disgusted by the decadence of most Americans. More than that, life here just seems so incredibly easy. I have my own car to drive places. I can literally go anywhere I want in my city, at my convenience, and I can even travel safely at night. There is a ton of food in my house and amazing appliances to cook it quickly and well. My city is clean and my neighborhood is beautiful and full of trees. I live a  five minute drive from at least 20 different restaurants. I have several jobs with which I can save money. I have lots of friends to help me emotionally with anything that’s wrong. I am in a musical. I am going to a beautiful college in the fall that I love and studying two of my passions. My life is a dream life. It really is.

I’m a little ashamed at what I used to complain about. “I have so much AP Stats homework – I’m going to be up till 4 a.m,” translates to “I am whining about my expensive education that’s getting me ahead in the next stage of my education.”

“I don’t want to go to work today, I just want to have fun,” is essentially, “I have the opportunity to save money and I’m complaining.”

“Why do I have to do chores,” now means to me, “I am angry because my parents are teaching me the value of responsibility.”

“I don’t want this food,” = I am ungrateful that I had a lunch packed for me, that there is food available to me whenever I want it.

It’s really alarming to think of it. I really, really don’t like when people ask me, “How was Africa?” because I can’t sum it up. I use words such as “life-changing,” “stretched my horizons,” “broadening,” “incredible,” etc., but none of that sums up my feelings about my year and my feelings about returning.

I just pray that my passion doesn’t get sucked into the black hole of individualism here. I don’t want to lose what I’ve learned.


5 thoughts on “Reverse Culture-Shock

  1. This is going to sound really random as to why I began processing thoughts similar to yours, but after reading The Hunger Games, I really struggled with the decadence of America because we are so much like the Capitol. I’ve just heard so much about poverty through one of my English classes and through it being kinda like a trend to try to fight world poverty, but when it comes down to it, no one really cares. They’ll give up after a week or talk about it in class like it matters, but not take any steps outside of class. And I am sooo guilty of wanting more and more and then complaining about not having enough, whatever that is. I love you, and I love reading your thoughts.

  2. You will not lose those African Lessons of Life.. { less is always MORE}.and American materialization will NEVER define you…because your life is FOREVER changed!

  3. I think that I loved every word you wrote.Thank you.I will miss your updates and wonderful writing skills. I have wanted to hear your heart and now I have.:) I will complain less today and appreciate America more.:)I thank you for your opinion on magazines.I hate them as well.That being said, you are a blessing to many here and I am so thankful for all God has added to your life because of your time in Africa.Spread it, Sistah!!!

  4. Well written! Keep on processing things. Its been almost 2 months and Tara and I still feel strange walking into a huge grocery store! I think one of the best changes I’ve experienced on trips like this has been seeing the world with new eyes… poverty (of every kind) isn’t limited to some foreign country but can be found in any community.

  5. Nice post Abbie. Completely agree on the food thing. It’s overwhelming. I have a very hard time not eating all day, every day. Agreed on the “How was Africa?” question too – there is just no way to summarize without a 20+ minute conversation & photoshare.

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