Putting It In Reverse (Culture Shock)

Angela Pupino
April 28, 2017

Whenever I travel, I always get nervous that I’ll leave something behind. I’m constantly checking to make sure that I have my passport, phone, or wallet. I always have to double-check that I didn’t leave my phone charger plugged in at the airport charging station or my favorite shirt in my closet.

Leaving London was difficult because I knew that I was leaving part of myself behind.

I was leaving behind the part of my identity that had become inextricably linked to London. The part of me that had become used to handling pounds and pence was now obsolete. The part of me who loved being constantly surrounded by British accents can’t be satisfied stateside, no matter how much Doctor Who she watched. The part of me who enjoyed being able to visit Westminster whenever she pleased was just going to have to suck it up.

There are study abroad experiences that don’t fit easily into your suitcase. Would I ever be able to explain to my family what it felt like to walk past St. Pancras Station every day on my way to class? Would I ever be able to make my friends understand what it felt like to sit in the House of Commons or to dance with a man in a kilt at a Ceilidh? What about what it felt like to be able to see the Shard every morning from your bedroom window?

I understand reverse culture shock because I’m a first-generation college student. I mean, I get a bit of reverse culture shock every time I go back home to Ohio from my school in DC. Whenever I go back to my family, we have a great time. But we also end up confusing each other. Small town Ohio always feels a little too small for me after time in a big city. And my family never really understands when I try to explain my experiences in DC, whether it’s my plans for the future or my newfound knowledge of schools of international relations theory. It’s always a little disorienting for everyone.

But after returning from London, I’ve realized that the problem with reverse culture shock is not that you’re returning home. It’s that you’re bringing new things back with you. You’re not simply throwing a car into reverse and returning to life exactly the way it was before you left. You are different, and so are your family, friends, campus, and community.

You are bringing back new experiences, new words, new ideas, new food tastes, new preferences, new relationships, and new ways of seeing the world. You’re like a key that’s changed shape ever so slightly. No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to fit back into your old locks in exactly the same way.

And that’s okay.

One of the things that it has been hardest for me to hold onto while back home in Ohio is the sense of confidence I felt while in London. I felt like a whole new me. Every morning I would wake up and walk the streets of a whole new part of the world. I grew comfortable in an amazing labyrinth of a city. I felt independent and free and courageous. I had managed to get myself to another country, and I continued to surprise myself every single day. I received a state department scholarship to study abroad, made amazing friends, took spectacular pictures, got an article published by CNN International, and fell madly in love with a city called London.

And then I returned to the United States and... where on Earth did confident study abroad Angela go? 

My personal goal for myself this summer, my senior year, and probably for the rest of my life, is to get that version of myself back. When I was abroad, I took good risks— big and small and in-between. I was willing to explore the strangest and most beautiful places. I learned to take on a city and my fears. London taught me that I can do those things.

I don’t think I’ve seen my last days in London. And I don’t think London’s seen the last of me.


Thank you all for following me on this journey.

Best of luck throughout all of your adventures,


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Angela Pupino

<p>Hi, I&rsquo;m Angela! I&rsquo;m a junior at American University, where I&rsquo;m majoring in International Studies and minoring in Public Health. I enjoy drinking hot chocolate, reading good books, and singing along to *every* song on the Hamilton soundtrack. I grew up in the Rust Belt, live in DC, and can&rsquo;t wait to study healthcare and experience life in London. I&rsquo;m not throwing away my shot!</p>

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