Saturday, June 07, 2008

Reverse Culture Shock... Grab a coffee; it's a long one

I'm not sure exactly why, but I want to reflect a little on our last two years. I found myself lying awake in bed the other night, mentally composing this entry. And whenever that happens, I know it's time to write. Here goes...

Shortly before we left Japan, I got in touch with an old Brock friend who was working at the Japanese consulate in Toronto. She had gone on the
JET Programme a few years earlier, a program(?) that I highly recommend for new university grads who want an amazing cross-cultural experience. I went on it for a year after completing a 3-year degree at Brock. It was the year before Jeff and I got married, and as most of you know, it changed my life. It made me fall in love with Japan, for one thing, a country I had hardly known anything about just a short time before. And of course, it made me fall in love with a lifestyle of travel. A love that has made life and life choices considerably more complex since that time!

Anywho... back to the point (my daughter is sleeping, and I am, for once, blissfully enjoying some much needed non-interrupted thought!)

So when I got in touch with Tanya, she emailed me and said, "I know you've probably heard lots about reverse culture shock, but I wanted to warn you that on average, it takes a good 2 years to feel fully adjusted again." Wow! said I. Two years?! That's crazy! I had anticipated a rough go, but two years just seemed like a bit much.

We arrived back in Canada on May 15, 2006. I have to admit, I don't really like looking back to those first few months. They were full of apprehension, boredom, restlessness, and anxiety about the future. I mourned the loss of what we had had in Japan. We knew that even if we went back, it would not be the same as what we had experienced. Different city, different apartment, different jobs, different friends... different car! That special time was done. I hung on to the memories and the old friendships too tightly, refusing to let them go. We had had such an amazing experience, and I just didn't know how to move on. I feel a bit embarrassed at how tightly I hung on. But I guess that's just the kind of person I am.

The two "activities" that sustained me the first year back were working out at Fitness Alive, and teaching ESL at Niagara College. I'd go to Fitness Alive, tune into the music, and sweat, sweat, sweat away the frustrations. I'd go to Niagara College and focus on my students and my marking, instead of all the inner rumblings. Without these two distractions, life would have been much more difficult to hack. Church was not its former place of security, as I had to balance out my newly-embraced Eastern ideals with still-cherished-but-slightly-confused Western frameworks. And many friendships required a certain measure of renegotiation, as we struggled to find common ground. We thank our friends for their patience.

When May 15, 2007 came around, I marked the day. I thought about it the whole week leading up to it, and on May 15, I let out an audible sigh. I knew the worst was over, and it could only get better. And it did. Last May was a time of celebration. I had successfully completed a tough semester. We found out that we were (finally!) pregnant. We went to Winnipeg to celebrate with Nathan and Maria as they got married.

The funny thing is, I'm not sure that the "two-year" timeframe was true for us. May 15, 2008 came and went without any of the fanfare of the previous year. No sigh of relief, no real difference in feeling or attitude. Admittedly, we've had a few more things to occupy our minds, namely, KAIYA. But still, I would have to say that the bulk of our readjustment took place in the first year back. There are still parts about Canada that we bristle at with frustration. Like the lack of public transit, the obsession with big vehicles, the Fourth Ave. stretch of ridiculously timed lights and car-reliant strip malls. The "Christmas" season that begins November 1st. Hmmm... I better not get started. But I don't know that I'd relegate that to culture shock. We may simply be more aware of certain things now that we know what life is like in the absence, or presence, of those things.

I don't even long for that life like I used to. My last major "Japan craving" came shortly after Kaiya's birth. I really wanted to visit Japan as a family this summer to show her off. But I knew we couldn't afford the trip, and I slowly let go of the idea once again. And although I want to live overseas again (and again and again), the destination no longer HAS to be Japan. I'm open to other destinations... mind you, it's not like I'll kick and scream if we end up back there... ;)

For now, the travel side of our lives is on pause. I'd say we've settled quite nicely into Canadian life. I'm once again enjoying swimming pools, cold beers on the patio, sunsets across expansive skies. Life has resumed its routine. And we've found our place back in it. However, I'm not sure the "bug" will ever go away.

Was the struggle worth it? Absolutely. Would I do it again? No question. Even with kids? The more, the merrier. Life abroad may not always be the easy road or the conventional road, but it's my road of choice. Nothing makes me feel more excited and alive than cross-cultural living. I can't think of a better gift to share with my daughter. I look forward to our next adventure, whenever it may come.


lovetolaugh said...

Yoooooou made me cry! You bum!

I am glad this email exists, and you are you!

Anonymous said...

Epps in...Mexico

Epps in...China

Epps in...England

Epps...around the world


Mi-chan said...

wow! thank God for you and jeff! you so eloquently put my thoughts and feelings into words in that of the very best things about being back here for me is knowing that i still have a little piece of my old life in ota (you two) here in canada
V( ^ - ^ )V

James said...

I just wanted to say that I'm frustrated by all four of those things too, and I haven't really had a cross-cultural experience. I'm not trying to say anything by that, except that I guess two people can come to the same cultural conclusions by completely different roads.

Also, thanks for this post. Some of these things I had guessed were true, and others surprised me. But mainly it's so great that you guys have found your own way, and are sharing that experience with us.